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Judge Michael Mukasey Tapped for Attorney General

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Bush nominated Judge Michael Mukasey yesterday to be the U.S. attorney general. And if the Senate confirms him, he will have only 16 months on the job. That's a short amount of time to accomplish a long list of tasks -as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO: When Judge Michael Mukasey spoke in the White House Rose Garden yesterday, he put his finger on a reality that any new attorney general will have to face.

Judge MICHAEL MUKASEY (Retired; U.S. Attorney General Nominee): The department faces challenges vastly different from those it faced when I was an assistant U.S. attorney 35 years ago.

SHAPIRO: Those aren't just big intangible challenges like restoring morale at the department, although he needs to do that too. There are also very specific, detailed policy challenges, like domestic spying. Congress passed a temporary fix to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act but it's going to expire in January. The new attorney general will have to broker some sort of permanent agreement between the White House and Congress.

The attorney general is also in the crossfire on executive privilege. Congress wants documents from the White House about U.S. attorney firings and other controversies - the president refuses to hand them over. And then there are debates that have never stopped raging in the last six years about detainee treatment, interrogation practices, and other such issues.

The new attorney general will undoubtedly have public clashes with Congress and civil rights groups on these issues. And if the recent spate of tell-all memoirs from administration insiders is any indication, there may well be even more intense private clashes behind the scenes with officials from the president and vice president's staff.

For Michael Mukasey, who spent almost 20 years as a federal judge, this could take some getting used to. As a member of President Bush's cabinet, he may have power, but his opinion will no longer be the final verdict.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.