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Possible AG nominees surface

Published: Sunday, Sept. 16 2007 12:19 a.m. MDT

WASHINGTON — Conservatives on Saturday lined up for and against potential attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey, the man they believe has ascended to the top of President Bush's list of replacements for Alberto Gonzales.

Earlier in the week, Democrats in the Senate threatened to block confirmation of another prospect — Theodore Olson, a longtime GOP ally and former solicitor general who represented Bush before the Supreme Court in the contested 2000 presidential election.

The behind-the-scenes battle over who will succeed Gonzales heated up over the weekend as the president, who was at Camp David, moved closer to announcing his choice.

So far, the White House has stayed quiet about who will replace Gonzales. An announcement is expected this week, and some legal conservatives and Republicans told The Associated Press that the White House appeared to be signaling that Mukasey was Bush's pick.

That prompted questions and praise for the former U.S. district judge from New York, who is an adviser to Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign.

Some legal conservatives and Republicans have expressed reservations about Mukasey's legal record and past endorsements and said some groups have been drafting a strategy to oppose him.

Others hailed Mukasey's record.

"He is really tough as nails. He was a really first-rate, brilliant judge, and he's got impeccable conservative law-and-order values," said Jay Lefkowitz, a former domestic policy adviser at the Bush White House who handled Justice Department issues. "I think he would be very well-positioned on national security issues, on prosecuting the war on terror. He would be coming from outside the White House and ... could restore confidence in the department."

Mukasey also has boosters among some of Bush's toughest Democratic critics.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., previously recommended Mukasey for a Supreme Court vacancy.

In June 2005, the liberal Alliance for Justice put Mukasey's name on a list of four judges who, if chosen for the Supreme Court, would show the president's "commitment" to picking someone who could be supported by both Democratic and Republican senators.

Nan Aron of the alliance said if Bush nominated Mukasey, the Senate would view it as a "conciliatory" act.

"The White House is fighting on a number of different fronts and maybe just want one less confrontation with the Democratic Senate," Aron said. "I've been told that Mukasey has been vetted and that he's the nominee if the White House decides to send up a consensus candidate."

Attempts to reach Mukasey on Saturday were unsuccessful.

Besides Mukasey and Olson, others being eyed for the post include former deputy attorney general George Terwilliger; 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge William Wilkins; and former deputy attorney general Larry Thompson, who is general counsel at PepsiCo.

Mukasey has handled terrorist cases in the U.S. legal system for more than 10 years. He was nominated to the federal bench in 1987 by President Reagan and eventually became chief judge of the high-profile federal courthouse in Manhattan.

Mukasey played a key role in one of the most hard-fought post-Sept. 11 terror cases: that of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who was arrested in 2002 on a supposed mission to detonate a "dirty bomb."

The judge appointed a lawyer to Padilla, but before a hearing on whether there was sufficient cause to detain Padilla, Bush declared him an enemy combatant. That began a years-long legal ordeal that ended with Padilla back in a different federal court, where he was convicted last month of murder conspiracy.

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