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Lawyers Give AG Nominee Strong Marks

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

In the Rose Garden at the White House today, President Bush introduced the man he'd like to have succeed Alberto Gonzales at the head of the Justice Department. He's a retired New York federal judge.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm pleased to announce my nomination of Judge Michael Mukasey to be the 81st attorney general of the United States.

BLOCK: Mukasey is considered a Washington outsider. During almost 20 years on the federal bench, he heard some of the most important terrorism cases in the country.

Coming up, analysis from our legal experts.

First, NPR's Ari Shapiro has this profile.

ARI SHAPIRO: Defense lawyer Andrew Patel remembers the first time he was in Judge Michael Mukasey's courtroom. Mukasey assigned a court date to the lawyer ahead of Patel.

Mr. ANDREW PATEL (Criminal Defense Attorney): And with some trepidation, the lawyer said, your honor, I'm supposed to be on vacation. I'm sorry, could you give me another date? And without hesitation, Judge Mukasey said, you never have to apologize for being a human being in this court.

SHAPIRO: Patel represented defendants before Judge Mukasey pretty regularly for about 15 years. Everyone from street junkies to high profile terrorism suspects like the American enemy combatant Jose Padilla. Patel says he and Mukasey disagree on just about everything. But he thinks the judge is an excellent choice for attorney general.

Mr. PATEL: You know, there is a decency about the man and a respect for fundamental fairness that just goes down to the genetic level with him. I mean, his sense of due process is just wrapped in his DNA.

SHAPIRO: It's not so surprising that everyone interviewed for this story had glowing things to say on the record about Judge Mukasey. After all, who wants to slam the man who may soon be the most powerful law enforcement officer in the country? But the thing is, when the tape recorder was off, and people could presumably be a bit more candid, they still gushed about him.

One civil rights lawyer talked about a colleague who represented accused terrorists in Judge Mukasey's court. When the colleague died recently, Judge Mukasey delivered a moving speech at the attorney's funeral. The lawyer who described the scene said it's not often that a judge will develop that kind of a relationship with lawyers. It says something about him.

On the prosecutor's side, Bob Mueller appeared in Mukasey's courtroom many times as an assistant U.S. attorney in New York.

Mr. ROBERT MUELLER (Director, FBI): You know, a lot of judges, when they come in and they handle a matter, they like to think they're the smartest person in the room. With Judge Mukasey, more often than not, that was actually the case.

SHAPIRO: Mueller said prosecutors were always happy to get Judge Mukasey assigned to their cases not because he was a knee-jerk pro-government judge...

Mr. MUELLER: It was more because he just, you know, he ran a very good courtroom and he just kept things moving, and you knew that, you know, he had studied the issues and was on top of it.

SHAPIRO: One of the most prominent cases Mukasey handled was the trial of the blind sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted of plotting to attack landmarks around New York City.

Andrew McCarthy was the lead prosecutor on that case. He says there were times during the trial when Judge Mukasey ruled against the government, sometimes after heated fights.

Mr. ANDREW McCARTHY (Lawyer): And I have to say that there was never a time that we came home at night where we thought, you know, he just doesn't get it.

SHAPIRO: McCarthy wrote an op-ed last week with the headline "Judge Mukasey Would Make a Stellar Attorney General."

For years, Mukasey has been on Democrats' list of acceptable Republican nominees. They suggested him for the Supreme Court back in 2003. And Democratic senators started pitching him for attorney general six months ago.

A senior administration official today said getting an easily confirmable nominee was one factor, but not the determining factor in the decision to tap Mukasey.

At this morning's ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, Judge Mukasey said he's always had respect for the men and women of the Justice Department.

Judge MICHAEL MUKASEY (U.S. Attorney General Nominee): My fondest hope and prayer at this time is that if confirmed, I can give them the support and the leadership they deserve.

SHAPIRO: And President Bush had a message for Congress.

Pres. BUSH: It's pivotal time for our nation and it's vital that the position of the attorney general be filled quickly. I urge the Senate to confirm Judge Mukasey promptly.

SHAPIRO: The White House is hoping for confirmation hearings in two weeks. But some members of Congress don't think that's realistic.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy suggested that the timeline may depend on whether the White House is willing to hand over documents about U.S. attorney firings and other controversies. Leahy said in a statement, our focus now will be on securing the relevant information we need so we can proceed to schedule fair and thorough hearings.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.