President George W. Bush has settled on retired federal judge Michael Mukasey as his choice to replace outgoing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, people familiar with the selection process said on Sunday.
The nomination of Mukasey, considered a law-and-order conservative and authority on national security issues, was expected on Monday, according to the sources, who asked not to be named.
A senior Republican aide told Reuters that background materials about the retired 66-year-old jurist were distributed to Senate Republican staffers, in preparation for Mukasey’s anticipated Senate confirmation hearing.
The aide said Bush seemed to turn to Mukasey after Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid vowed last week to block another potential top nominee, former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, as too partisan.
“It’s our expectation — that of the senior Senate (Republican) staff — that it will be Mukasey,” the aide said. “We expect an announcement this week.”
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in an e-mail: “We are not commenting on any possible names for the attorney general nomination.” But she added, “You should expect an announcement soon.”
SMOOTHER CONFIRMATION AHEAD?
Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who led the drive to force Gonzales out, said Mukasey has the potential to become a consensus nominee.
“While he is certainly conservative, Judge Mukasey seems to be the kind of nominee who would put rule of law first and show independence from the White House,” Schumer said in a statement.
“For sure, we’d want to ascertain his approach on such important and sensitive issues as wiretapping and the appointment of U.S. attorneys, but he’s a lot better than some of the other names mentioned.”
If confirmed by the Senate, Mukasey would replace Gonzales, who resigned as attorney general last month, effective on Monday. Gonzales quit after months of Democratic and some Republican lawmakers challenged his truthfulness and ability to do his job as the chief U.S. law enforcement officer.
Gonzales drew much of the fire for his dismissal last year of nine federal prosecutors and his handling of Bush’s domestic spying program, which critics have denounced as unlawful.
Olson, who represented Bush in the Supreme Court case that settled the contested 2000 presidential election, had been widely viewed as the top contender early last week.
But Reid appeared to slam the door on him, vowing to do all he could as majority leader to prevent Olson’s confirmation.
A Democratic Party aide said Mukasey may have an easier time winning Senate confirmation than some others who had been mentioned, including Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff.
Mukasey was nominated to the federal bench two decades ago by Republican President Ronald Reagan.
Mukasey, appointed as a U.S. District judge for the southern district of New York, retired last year after nearly two decades of service. He earlier served as a federal prosecutor.
As a federal judge, Mukasey presided over a number of high-profile cases, including one in which a dozen people were tied to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan, Tabassum Zakaria and David Wiessler)