Mukasey: The Anti-Crony
Here is your new attorney general, the 81st in our nation's history: Michael B. Mukasey.
He's a former federal judge with tons of legal experience and honors but precious little background in the byzantine world of bureaucracy and corporate management; a fellow whom Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) evidently admires and whose judicial decisions weren't always in synch with conservative sensibilities; a guy who on his worst day is going to be better than his predecessor was on his best; a bright man who has never been a player on Team Bush.
All in all, you might say he is an anti-crony.
Michael B. Mukasey almost certainly will be confirmed by the Senate with plenty of Democratic support. And he should be. Mukasey may not be a perfect choice for the job -- he's no former deputy attorney general James Comey -- but he is perhaps the best anyone can hope for in this world of divided and divisive government. Let me put it this way: any candidate whose nomination avoids a bitter, protracted confirmation battle in the Senate is all right by me. The the sooner the new attorney general can get to work, the better off we'll all be.
Mukasey is a decorated jurist who did an excellent job presiding over the trial of the blind Omar Abdel Rahman in 1993 and who was unwilling to join the Bush administration's push to deny the so-called dirty-bomber Jose Padilla his right to counsel. Those are three more reasons to consider his nomination plausibly productive.Yes, he's a Reagan appointee and more conservative than some liberals would like. But so what? We all knew the president wasn't going to nominate the head of the ACLU to take over as the nation's chief law enforcement official.
Mukasey may be conservative, but he clearly is not a craven ideologue like former Attorney General John Ashcroft, and he is certainly not the presidential lapdog that Alberto Gonzales always was. Mukasey thus is a perfect "caretaker" official who can begin (over his first and last 16 months in office) to restore moral and integrity to the Justice Department, ravaged by the skullduggery of his predecessor. Federal prosecutors know him and have reason to trust his judgment. As one New York lawyer told me yesterday, Mukasey is a "judge's judge." Former and current government attorneys, believing Mukasey to be tough, demanding and incisive, were said to be "elated" at the choice.
Here's hoping he brings that judicial temperament and objectivity to his new position -- here's hoping, in other words, that he makes the Justice Department once again a haven for career professionals and dedicated nonpartisan attorneys willing and able to exercise judgments independent from the political pressures brought to bear by the White House. Judge Mukasey has a daunting job ahead of him. But the department's road to redemption has got to start somewhere, and it might as well start with him.
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