Some key U.S. senators are urging President Bush to avoid a confirmation battle over the next attorney general by picking a unifying nominee to heal a Justice Department reeling from accusations of playing politics, the Associated Press reports. The White House has dispatched some of its top aides to talk to members of Senate and House judiciary committees, seeking names of candidates to replace Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who will step down Sept. 17.
“We need somebody with real stature and a proven record who can restore the morale at the department and be more than a caretaker,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a Judiciary Committee member. Three candidates — Solicitor General Paul Clement, former Deputy Attorney General George Terwilliger and former Solicitor General Ted Olson — were singled out by Judiciary Committee senators. All three are considered conservative, skilled lawyers. Clement is meticulous and affable, has friends across the political spectrum, and is said to be interested in a seat on a federal appellate court. Terwilliger was the Justice Department’s No. 2 for two years under President George H. W. Bush after serving as U.S. Attorney in Vermont. Olson was an assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration and solicitor general from 2001 to 2004. He is said to have sided with the Justice Department, and against the White House, in refusing to approve potentially illegal terror surveillance activities in March 2004 — an episode that would endear him to Democrats. Olson also served as Bush’s lawyer in the Supreme Court case that determined the result of the disputed 2000 presidential election.