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AG Nomination Drama Wanes in Senate, Perks Up in House

All the suspense is gone as the Senate Judiciary Committee meets today to approve the nomination of Judge Michael B. Mukasey to succeed Alberto Gonzales as attorney general.

Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) assured that President Bush would get his choice confirmed by announcing their support for Mukasey last Friday, joining the nine committee Republicans likely to support him. And as of Monday afternoon, Democratic leaders had made no plans to filibuster the nomination, nor had any rank-and-file Democrat indicated his or her intention to force a cloture vote on Mukasey.

But there may be real drama awaiting Mukasey in the House, where Democratic leaders are threatening to drop a political grenade in his lap on his first days in office, after the Senate completes work on his nomination.

House Democrats moved on two fronts to rekindle a constitutional showdown over contempt of Congress charges against the White House and former West Wing aides. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sent White House Counsel Fred Fielding a letter setting this coming Friday as a deadline for resolving the dispute over President Bush's claim of executive privilege. He has refused to allow aides to testify or to turn over documents related to internal deliberations on the firing of U.S. attorneys last year.

If Fielding refuses - and early indications from the White House are that he will remain steadfast - there's a very real chance that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will bring the contempt charges to the full House some time next week. Just as the Senate is confirming Mukasey to take over the beleaguered department.

Mukasey's predecessor had stated that the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Columbia would not bring contempt charges against former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and others because they had based their refusal to testify on internal Justice Department advisory opinions saying the executive privilege claim was accurate. Mukasey appeared to indicate in that fateful second day of his confirmation hearings that he supported the Gonzales view, saying it would not be appropriate for the very same Justice Department that advised Miers against testifying to turn around and prosecute her for that refusal.

There's no assurance they really will follow through on their threats, considering Monday's letter was the ninth time Conyers asked Fielding for help. But If the House Democrats do pass contempt charges, then Mukasey's honeymoon period as the attorney general could be over before he sits down for his Thanksgiving meal.

After last week's build up of anti-Mukasey momentum, today's Senate Judiciary Committee vote had the potential to be a make-or-break vote with Sen. Herb Koh (D-Wis.) l casting the deciding vote. Instead, it has turned into an orchestrated debate and vote in committee, with the only issue remaining being whether Mukasey wins by an 11-8 or 12-7 margin, depending on how Kohl finally votes. He's the only committee member who has yet to disclose his position.

By Paul Kane  |  November 6, 2007; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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