WASHINGTON -- President Bush is preparing to nominate Michael B. Mukasey, a retired federal judge from New York, to succeed Alberto R. Gonzales as U.S. attorney general, people familiar with the president's intentions said yesterday.
White House officials began yesterday to distribute background materials on Mukasey to Republican aides on the Senate Judiciary Committee in preparation for confirmation hearings in a month or so, the staff members said.
The White House was preparing for an announcement as soon as today. Deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said the president would reveal his choice soon.
Mukasey, 66, is a former prosecutor and a respected jurist who in his 18 years on the bench presided over some of the nation's first trials arising from Islamic radicalism. Upon his retirement last year, he rejoined a prominent New York law firm as a senior partner.
He also has been serving as a legal adviser to Rudolph W. Giuliani's presidential campaign and is believed to have been on Giuliani's short list of attorney general candidates if the former New York mayor wins the Republican nomination and is elected.
Mukasey is considered a conservative but is largely unknown in Washington political circles. Despite his perceived political leanings, rumors of his possible selection triggered concerns among social conservatives.
In turning to Mukasey, Bush is hoping to avoid a protracted confirmation battle and reduce the controversies and upheaval that have engulfed the Justice Department under Gonzales over the past nine months.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who has been one of Gonzales' fiercest critics, has suggested that he would support his fellow New Yorker for attorney general.
"While he is certainly conservative, Judge Mukasey seems to be the kind of nominee who would put rule of law first and show independence from the White House, our most important criteria," said Schumer, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a statement yesterday. "He's a lot better than some of the other names mentioned, and he has the potential to become a consensus nominee."
White House officials would not discuss the selection yesterday. But Mukasey spent yesterday afternoon at the White House, meeting with senior Bush advisers, and by last night it seemed to be an open secret in Washington that Mukasey would be the nominee. Some allies of the White House spoke openly about the selection, as if Bush had already announced it.
"He's not as well-known to everybody within the Beltway as some people; he hasn't been in and out of the Bush administration or the prior Bush administration, but he's a rock-solid lawyer and a first-rate judge," said Jay Lefkowitz, a former domestic policy adviser to Bush who practices law in New York. "I think the president, by reaching outside the inner circle, by reaching outside the usual suspects, is bringing someone who is really going to restore a lot of integrity to the department."
Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor in New York who handled a major terrorism case before Mukasey in the mid-1990s, called the former judge "an unquestioned authority" on national security issues.
Gonzales announced three weeks ago that he was resigning, bowing to pressure from Democrats and Republicans arising from his involvement in the dismissals of nine U.S. attorneys last year and questions about his candor and integrity in testifying before Congress.
His last day was Friday.
Solicitor General Paul Clement is serving as acting attorney general until Gonzales' successor is confirmed.
Mukasey was nominated to the U.S. District Court in Manhattan by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. He served on the bench for 18 years and was chief judge of the powerful court from 2000 to 2006.
In 1996, he presided over the trial of the blind Egyptian cleric, Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted of being the mastermind of a plot to bomb the United Nations and other New York landmarks. He sentenced Abdel-Rahman to life in prison without parole.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, Mukasey ruled that Jose Padilla, once held as an enemy combatant in an alleged plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States, had a right to a lawyer.
He also presided over a lawsuit pitting New York developer Larry Silverstein against several insurance companies arising from the collapse of the World Trade Center.
Born in New York, Mukasey was educated at Columbia College and Yale Law School. After serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan from 1972 to 1976, he went into private practice for a dozen years before Reagan made him a judge. He rejoined his old firm, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, in 2006.
His son, Marc, is also a former assistant U.S. attorney and also has a Giuliani connection: He is head of the white-collar criminal defense practice in the New York office of Bracewell & Giuliani, the law firm that the former New York mayor joined two years ago.
Richard B. Schmitt writes for the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times contributed to this article.
Michael B. Mukasey
Age: 66; born 1941 in New York City
Education: Bachelor of Law, 1967, Yale Law School; bachelor's degree, 1963, Columbia College, Columbia University
Experience: Partner, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler law firm, 2006-present; judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (including six years as chief judge), 1988-2006; attorney, Patterson Belknap, 1976-1988; assistant U.S. attorney in the criminal division of the Southern District, 1972-1976