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Who Is Michael Mukasey and Should He Be Attorney General?

Steve Benen: Among other things, he's a conservative Republican, playing an active role in Giuliani's nutty presidential campaign.
 
 
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This post, written by Steve Benen, originally appeared on The Carpetbagger Report

Chasing Attorney General rumors has proven to be rather pointless. Initially, Department of Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff was practically already prepping for his confirmation hearings. Then, the White House leaked a short list, sans Chertoff, and Ted Olson was the likely nominee.

Now we have a new front-runner for the job: Michael Mukasey, a former judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, whose name was on the leaked short-list from last week.

The sources said that President Bush is close to announcing his nominee, possibly doing so as early as tomorrow, and that Mukasey has vaulted to the top over other contenders, including former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson, whose chances may have been damaged after the Senate's top Democrat vowed to block his confirmation.

One source close to the White House, describing Mukasey as the clear "front-runner," said Bush advisers appear to have decided that "they didn't want a big fight over attorney general" in the Senate, especially when other qualified candidates are also available. The source said Olson, who represented Bush in the Supreme Court fight over the contested 2000 election, would be seen as "very political," despite his outstanding legal credentials.

Another well-connected GOP source, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity in discussing internal White House deliberations, said that Mukasey is "the leading candidate." He described Mukasey -- the former chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York -- as a conservative on counterterrorism issues, such as electronic surveillance, and said that he has a solid reputation and is seen by Bush aides as "confirmable."

Oddly enough, Mukasey's principal problem, should he be the nominee, is that he may draw fire from the right, not the left.

For one thing, conservatives wanted Olson, not just because of his record as a conservative ideologue, but also because the right relished a high-profile fight with Senate Democrats over the Attorney General vacancy. Conservatives don't care about "confirmable"; they care about partisan warfare.

But more importantly, the right doesn't perceive Mukasey as "one of them."

Steve Benen is a freelance writer/researcher and creator of The Carpetbagger Report. In addition, he is the lead editor of Salon.com's Blog Report, and has been a contributor to Talking Points Memo, Washington Monthly, Crooks & Liars, The American Prospect, and the Guardian.