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Leahy Says Moving Mukasey Nomination Depends on White House Cooperation

Even as President Bush’s choice of former federal judge Michael Mukasey for attorney general was winning cautious praise from Senate Democrats, Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) warned Monday that hearings on the nomination will not begin until the administration turns over thousands of pages of documents on a host of controversial issues.

“Our focus now will be on securing the relevant information we need so we can proceed to schedule fair and thorough hearings. Cooperation from the White House will be essential in determining that schedule,” Leahy said in a statement, adding that “the next Attorney General needs to be someone who can begin the process of restoring the Department of Justice to its proper mission. I am hopeful that once we obtain the information we need and we have had the opportunity to consider the nomination, we will be able to make progress in this regard.”

But Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, said dragging out confirmation hearings would be ill-advised, given the state of disarray in the Department of Justice and the number of open positions at the highest levels. Specter agreed that important questions remain over the firings of nine U.S. attorneys and the warrantless wiretapping program, but that Mukasey’s nomination shouldn’t get caught in the crossfire.

Specter wouldn’t lay out a specific timetable for Mukasey’s confirmation, but said, “I would hope not to get bogged down with preconditions to his nomination.” The Pennsylvania Republican added that he believes “it is very important to act promptly, not with undue haste, but to act promptly and not to get snarled in those questions outstanding.”

“It is my hope that those issues will be separated,” Specter said. “It’s very important that the Department of Justice have senior leadership to carry on its important functions.

Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) — who is chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and serves on the Judiciary Committee with Leahy — originally floated Mukasey as a possible replacement for former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales this spring. Mukasey served on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York for 18 years, and is widely viewed as one of Bush’s least partisan nominees for a top administration post.

Schumer on Sunday offered faint praise for Mukasey, saying that while he is a conservative he is “a lot better than some of the other names mentioned and he has the potential to become a consensus nominee.” The administration had floated the name of former Solicitor General Ted Olson as Gonzales’ replacement, but that was met with vocal opposition from Democrats.

Likewise, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he is “glad President Bush listened to Congress and put aside his plan to replace Alberto Gonzales with another partisan Administration insider. Judge Mukasey has strong professional credentials and a reputation for independence. A man who spent 18 years on the federal bench surely understands the importance of checks and balances and knows how to say no to the president when he oversteps the Constitution.” However, Reid cautioned against a “rush to judgment” and said he will support Leahy’s efforts to consider the nomination.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — who, along with Specter and Senate Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl (Ariz.), met Mukasey at the White House Monday morning — praised the former judge and called on Democrats to quickly confirm him.

“I will review his record and qualifications, and I encourage my colleagues to complete a fair and comprehensive review of their own, without political calculations and without delay. The Senate needs to promptly and fairly consider his qualifications and vote in a timely fashion,” McConnell said.

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