Two Senate Democrats warned Monday that they might delay confirming President Bush’s choice to be the next attorney general unless the White House turns over documents relating to several investigations, a move that could provoke the kind of confirmation fight the administration was hoping to avoid.
Bush announced the selection of Michael B. Mukasey, a retired federal judge from New York who has presided over several high-profile terrorism trials, during a morning Rose Garden ceremony. He urged the Senate to confirm Mukasey promptly as the nation’s 81st attorney general, succeeding Alberto R. Gonzales, who tendered his resignation last month under withering attacks from Democrats on Capitol Hill.
“Judge Mukasey is clear-eyed about the threat our nation faces,” Bush said, with the 66-year-old former jurist by his side. “As a judge and a private lawyer, he’s written on matters of constitutional law and national security. He knows what it takes to fight this war effectively.”
If confirmed, Mukasey would take over a department that has been burdened by the weight of congressional inquiries into the firing of federal prosecutors and the administration’s domestic wiretapping program. In brief remarks after Bush spoke, he pledged to give the Justice Department’s lawyers “the support and the leadership they deserve.”
At a time when Democrats are bitterly at odds with the administration over the war in Iraq, the selection of Mukasey — a Washington outsider who met Bush for the first time during an hour-long interview at the White House on Sept. 1 — seemed to signal that the administration is looking to move past the partisanship that characterized Gonzales’ tenure.
But two Democrats who will have a powerful say over whether Mukasey gets confirmed — Sens. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Charles E. Schumer of New York — vowed on Monday to use the nomination to pressure the White House into turning over information the panel has been seeking on the domestic wiretapping program and its treatment of military detainees.
“All I want is the material we need to ask some questions about the former attorney general’s conduct, on torture and warrantless wiretapping, so we can legitimately ask, ‘Here’s what was done in the past, what will you do?”’ Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which will hold Mukasey’s confirmation hearings, told reporters.
Whether that is a negotiating tactic, or a threat that could turn into an all-out battle, was unclear on Monday. But Leahy did say he had told the White House counsel, Fred F. Fielding, that the nomination could not go forward without the information, and that “cooperation with the White House would be central” to scheduling hearings.
Schumer, for his part, seemed on Monday to take on the role of mediator between Leahy and the White House. On Sunday, Schumer — who first floated Mukasey’s name with the White House as a potential Supreme Court nominee four years ago — praised Mukasey as a potential “consensus nominee.” On Monday, he said he had told Fielding that the White House would have to resolve Leahy’s concerns.