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Michael Mukasey wasted little time. Just hours after the Senate voted 53-40 to confirm him as the nation’s 81st attorney general late in the evening on Nov. 8, he reported to work. Reflecting the urgency to have a new leader in a key Cabinet position, Mukasey flew in from New York City on Nov. 9 and arrived at Main Justice after 3 p.m. First came a low-key ceremony with Lee Lofthus, the assistant attorney general for administration, who administered an oath in the attorney general’s conference room to assure that Mukasey’s signature on documents would be valid ahead of the weekend. A formal swearing-in ceremony, in which Mukasey will address employees, is expected sometime this week. “After being sworn in, Attorney General Mukasey got right to work, meeting with senior staff and receiving security briefings necessary to carry out his responsibilities,” says Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman. Kenneth Wainstein, the assistant attorney general for national security, and Steven Bradbury, principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, were among the first officials to brief him on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act procedures as well as the ongoing efforts to amend that law. “Attorney General Mukasey will continue to meet with senior staff throughout the department to gain a better understanding of the department’s priorities, formulate his views about future priorities, and make decisions on filling senior-level positions,” Carr said. For many of the more than 110,000 Justice employees, Mukasey’s arrival signals a change after months of uncertainty with crucial management positions unfilled and controversies leading to the resignation of his predecessor, Alberto Gonzales. “I think U.S. attorneys are very optimistic and hopeful that we have turned the corner in terms of the troubles of the past year,” says U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein of Maryland, an 18-year career prosecutor. After Gonzales left in mid-September, President George W. Bush tapped Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler of the Civil Division to run the department in an acting capacity. But there’s no substitute for Senate-approved leadership, a Justice employee says. “Everyone’s glad to have the stability of a confirmed attorney general,” says one veteran Criminal Division career official. Political appointees and career staff alike are eager for Mukasey to take the reins of the beleaguered department and begin filling vacancies. High on Mukasey’s list is deciding what to do with Acting Deputy Attorney General Craig Morford, the former U.S. attorney in Cleveland who was brought in during August to replace Paul McNulty, who was at the center of the controversial firings of nine U.S. attorneys last year. During a written follow-up answer to senators’ questions last month, Mukasey said he would be able to bring in his own candidates for most positions. And White House officials would consult him on all their future appointments needing Senate approval, he said. “The administration has assured me that I will have the ability to make personnel decisions .�.�. free from White House interference,” Mukasey wrote. “I have been assured that I will have a voice in considering nominations and that anyone nominated would be someone with whom I could work.” Mukasey must also fill the Civil Division slot vacated by the departing Keisler, and he must decide what to do with several other officials serving as temporary replacements. One group eager to work with Mukasey on some internal changes is DOJ Pride, the organization representing gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees. Under Gonzales and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, the group was barred from using the department’s Great Hall for annual ceremonies. The group wrote to Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) about DOJ’s refusal to post the group’s fliers on bulletin boards or allow internal e-mail messages announcing their events. Under questioning by Feingold, Mukasey said he didn’t understand the reasons for such treatment and pledged to end it once in office.
Pedro Ruz Gutierrez can be contacted at [email protected].

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