Attorney General Mukasey collapses

November 20, 2008 10:05:58 PM PST
Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the no-nonsense former federal judge who took over the Justice Department after Alberto Gonzales resigned in disgrace, collapsed during a speech Thursday night and was rushed to a hospital after losing consciousness. The 67-year-old Mukasey, wearing a black tie and tuxedo, was 15 to 20 minutes into a late-night speech about terrorism when he began slurring his words and shaking slightly. Mukasey's head slumped and hit the microphone as he began to fall, and three or four men in suits rushed on stage and caught him at the podium.

"The attorney general is conscious, conversant and alert," Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said after doctors admitted Mukasey to George Washington University Hospital for the night.

Mukasey was on the stage for 10 minutes being attended to by his FBI detail before medics arrived, according to a Justice Department official who was there. Mukasey was still breathing at the time, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to talk to the media.

Justice Department officials appeared alarmed at George Washington Hospital and spoke privately about serious concerns for his health. Justice spokeswoman Gina Talamona would not say whether Mukasey, the nation's top law enforcement official, had transferred power to his second-in-command, Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip.

She declined to say who was running the department or whether Mukasey had suffered a stroke. She had no information about his medical history.

In the prepared remarks of his address to the annual meeting of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group, Mukasey planned to defend the Bush administration's "fundamental reorganization" of the government since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and policies put in place to detain terror suspects. He also was planning to talk about the continuing threat of al-Qaida.

President George W. Bush was informed about Mukasey's collapse, press secretary Dana Perino said.

"The president has him in his thoughts and will be kept apprised and hopes that he will be back up and at 'em again soon," she said.

A Republican staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jack Daly, who was at the dinner, said in an e-mail to colleauges sent at 10:20 p.m. EST: "AG Mukasey collapsed in the middle of his keynote address at tonight's fed-soc dinner. He is still on stage after ten minutes and his security detail has called 911. The paramedics just arrived."

Eighteen minutes later, Daly added in another e-mail: "Mukasey did regain consciousness before he was taken away."

Bush, a fierce loyalist, ventured outside his circle of friends and Texas associates to tap Mukasey 14 months ago as Gonzales' replacement. Gonzales, the president's longtime friend and fellow Texan, quit after months of senators' demands for his resignation and investigations that called his credibility into doubt.

In a sun-drenched morning announcement on the White House lawn, Bush introduced Mukasey as "a tough but fair judge" and asked the Senate to confirm him quickly.

"Judge Mukasey is clear-eyed about the threat our nation faces," Bush said, praising his reputation as a smart and strong manager.

Mukasey, the former chief U.S. district judge in the Manhattan courthouse just blocks from ground zero, earned a reputation as a tough-on-terrorism jurist with an independent streak.

As a judge, Mukasey ordered the detention of young Muslim men as so-called material witnesses in terrorism cases following the Sept. 11 terror attacks. While those decisions drew sharp criticism from immigration lawyers, Mukasey won praise from Bush administration lawyers.

Mukasey endorsed much of the USA Patriot Act, which Bush pushed through Congress following the terror attacks to secure broad new law-enforcement power.

And yet he once criticized the Bush administration from the bench for overstepping in a terrorism case. As a jurist, he was known for his brusqueness and impatience with people who waste his time.

Before joining the administration, the former judge was a partner at New York-based law firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler.

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