President George W. Bush this morning pledged to work quickly to fill the many vacancies at the Department of Justice while praising Attorney General Michael Mukasey at his swearing-in ceremony at the department.
Bush also took time to laud the work of Mukasey's predecessor -- ex-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- in a speech in the department's Great Hall. More than 700 employees, family, friends, and dignitaries, many of them standing around aisles and crowding upper balconies, gave Mukasey an official welcome with loud applause.
"He knows what it takes to fight the war on terror effectively," Bush said of the former federal judge. "And he knows how to do it in a matter that is consistent with our laws and our Constitution. He will bring clear purpose and resolve to the job of attorney general."
Bush was interrupted five times by clapping during his eight-minute address.
"As our new attorney general, Michael Mukasey follows in the footsteps of a fine man and a fine American -- Al Gonzales. I have known Al since our days working together in the State of Texas.
"As White House counsel and as attorney general in my administration, Al Gonzales worked tirelessly to make this country safer and to ensure that all Americans received equal justice before the law. Over many years, I have witnessed his integrity, his decency, and his deep dedication to the cause of justice. I am grateful for his friendship. I thank him for his service to our nation."
Justice Department employees applauded just as loudly after Bush recognized Gonzales' work and that of former acting Attorney General Peter Keisler, who is leaving the department unsure of his immediate future. His nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has stalled in the Senate.
Bush also indicated he would waste no time in filling top posts at Main Justice that have been depleted in recent months in part because of a scandal involving the firing of nine U.S. attorneys last year.
"With [Keisler's] departure, many of the most senior positions at the Department of Justice will now be vacant. In a time of war, it's vital that these positions be filled quickly," he said. "So in consultation with the attorney general, I will announce tomorrow my nominations for several of these senior leadership positions. And I look forward to working with the Senate to fill these important positions at the Justice Department, so that America has the strongest, most capable national security team in place."
Gonzales resigned in mid-September amid allegations of politicization and ongoing internal investigations by the department's Office of Professional Responsibility and Office of Inspector General. Mukasey was nominated Sept. 17, and his subsequent confirmation was nearly derailed in the Senate last month after he refused to equate simulated drowning -- an interrogation technique known as waterboarding -- with torture.
In remarks after Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. swore him in as the country's 81st attorney general, Mukasey reminded Justice employees of their important work and promised them to provide leadership to continue their mission.
"My job involves not only an oath, but also a pledge," Mukasey said. "And that is to use all of the strength of mind and body that I have to help you to continue to protect the freedom and the security of the people of this country and their civil rights and liberties through the neutral and even-handed application of the
Constitution and the laws enacted under it."
Mukasey was accompanied by his wife Rebecca, son Marc -- a former assistant U.S. attorney in New York -- daughter Jessica, son-in-law Corey, and his grandsons William and Benjamin, who earlier led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Dignitaries in attendance included Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and former attorneys general John Ashcroft and Dick Thornburgh. Also seated near the front were FBI Director Robert Mueller and ex-FBI Director Louis Freeh, a former Southern District of New York judge and friend of Mukasey's.