World and Nation

Administration Starts an Effort To Save Mukasey’s Nomination

The White House began a campaign Thursday to save the candidacy of Michael B. Mukasey for attorney general, with President Bush defending the nominee in a speech and in an Oval Office interview, where he complained that Mukasey is “not being treated fairly” on Capitol Hill.

With Mukasey’s confirmation in doubt over his refusal to state a clear legal position on a classified Central Intelligence Agency program to interrogate terror suspects, Bush took the unusual step of summoning a small group of reporters into the Oval Office to preview remarks he planned to make later in the day at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization here.

“I believe that the questions he’s been asked are unfair,” Bush said. “He’s not been read into the program — he has been asked to give opinions of a program or techniques of a program on which he’s not been briefed. I will make the case — and I strongly believe this is true — that Judge Mukasey is not being treated fairly.”

The Oval Office remarks, the speech and a separate address on Thursday by Vice President Dick Cheney demonstrate just how much the White House has been caught off guard by the fight over Mukasey, a retired federal judge whose confirmation until recently seemed like a sure thing. But the effort also suggests that the White House believes it can combat criticism of Mukasey and his views by appealing to public concern about terrorism.

With leading Democrats like Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York giving Mukasey positive reviews at the outset, the White House had hoped to use the Mukasey nomination to mend the bitter partisan feelings left by the resignation of Bush’s former attorney general, Alberto R. Gonzales. Now Schumer says he is undecided, the top Democratic presidential candidates say they will oppose the nomination, and any hope of bipartisan support has all but been erased.

The nomination has not moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee — the panel is expected to vote Tuesday — and the committee could decide to keep Mukasey from receiving a vote on the Senate floor.

The biggest obstacle for Mukasey is that he has refused to declare whether he believes a particularly controversial technique known as waterboarding is illegal and a form of torture.