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Senate conservatives know little about Mukasey

Less than a week ago Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) - the two conservative cornerstones of the Senate Judiciary Committee this decade - knew next to nothing about retired U.S. Judge Michael B. Mukasey.

Cornyn said that he had heard the former chief judge of the federal courts for the Southern District of New York was a pick of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), while Sessions could only say that he did not like the fact that Mukasey had never worked in the Justice Department. "I do not know him," Sessions said last week. Capitol Briefing informed Sessions that Mukasey had served as a top prosecutor in the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office, which Sessions didn't know and found slightly reassuring.

Not since the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, two years ago next month, has such a pivotal position to the conservative movement been filled with someone so unfamiliar to the right-wing base. Several hours after Mukasey was officially nominated today to be the next attorney general, the conservative caucus of the Senate still didn't know much about the man. Carefully read this statement from Cornyn this afternoon and note how little outward praise there is for Mukasey, with the Texan spending most of his five sentences bashing Democrats:

"In recent months, my Democratic colleagues have loudly voiced their belief that partisan politics has no place at the Department of Justice. With today's nomination and forthcoming confirmation process of Judge Mukasey, they will have an opportunity to demonstrate that. I am examining Judge Mukasey's record and will continue to do so in the days ahead. But early indications are that he is a respected, experienced jurist who has a strong reputation for honesty and integrity. He deserves a fair and prompt hearing by the Senate."

Make no mistake, Mukasey is no Miers. The former White House counsel had almost no critical legal experience in criminal or civil courts, had no paper trail from which liberals or conservative could divine her legal views, and had given confusing statements to senators about her views on privacy, which are the foundation for rulings on abortion. Instead, Mukasey has more than 30 years of critical legal practice, including his prosecutorial years heading up the federal corruption unit in Manhattan and 19 years issuing opinions as a federal judge. His most recent promotion within his white-shoe law firm was to be a key player in the subprime mortgage crisis defense team.

Quite simply, the Judiciary Committee will have more than enough material by which to judge the former judge on his views ranging from terrorism to jumbo loans.

However, another thing is clear: Mukasey is no John Roberts, who was widely known to all corners of the conservative movement when on July 19, 2005, Bush nominated him to the Supreme Court. Within minutes of that nomination, Cornyn issued a statement praising Roberts as "an exceptional judge, brilliant legal mind, and a man of outstanding character who understands his profound duty to follow the law." Mukasey didn't get that treatment today.

And there's a reason why some of the biggest praise today came from Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who cited the nominee's "strong professional credentials and a reputation for independence." That was an echo of Reid's initial praise of Miers.

Reid and Schumer, acting preemptively last week, issued declarations that another possible selection, former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, would not get through the confirmation process because of his partisan background. Whether Bush was ever set on Olson is unclear, but his pick of Mukasey in the face of blank stares from conservatives was a clear victory for Schumer.

"The nomination of Judge Mukasey certainly shows a new attitude in the White House," Schumer told reporters today.

And John Cornyn's relative silence on the nomination is all the proof that's needed to back up Schumer's claim.

By Paul Kane  |  September 17, 2007; 5:40 PM ET
 
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