This is my outtamyarse guide to the potential replacement candidates for AGAG floated so far:
Michael Chertoff: I think someone in the Administration floated Michael Chertoff as a replacement candidate before that someone really thought things through. Sure, Chertoff has been approved by the Senate before. But that was before 11/7–and we know that 11/7 changed everything. Not to mention Katrina. Part of me wonders whether the urge to make Chertoff AG was just an attempt to get him out of DHS, where he’s screwing things up royally. And once Fran Townsend refused to take the DHS job as Chertoff’s replacement, the Administration was left with no way to make the transition gracefully and has likely abandoned the idea.
Laurence Silberman: Democrats may be weak-kneed. But there’s no way (I hope) that they’ll accept Silberman as a replacement candidate for AGAG. Silberman has been the fixer for Republican scandals going back to Watergate, with a particularly prominent role in Iran-Contra. Allowing Silberman to serve as AG would be getting rid of an incompetent hack and replacing him with a competent, more dangerous hack.
Ted Olson: Another of the candidates floated long ago, when BushCo would have been nominating a replacement from a position of strength, rather than one of desperation. Since that time, the curious circumstances around Debra Wong Yang’s hiring as Olson’s close associate at Gibson Dunn have arisen; that involves Olson in the USA Purge in a tangential enough way that you’d think it’d prevent him from being confirmable. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t put approving Olson beyond the weak-kneed Democrats.
Larry Thompson: Thompson was Deputy Attorney General when BushCo first set about shredding the Constitution, which is a major strike against him. It’s unclear whether Thompson was actually read into many of the most egregious programs. But still, one would hope that we wouldn’t approve anyone (besides Jim Comey) who has been through the Bush DOJ already. Unfortunately, early on in this process, Chuck Schumer listed Thompson as an acceptable choice for him as a replacement AG, though it has been reported that Thompson is uninterested in leaving his cushy job at Pepsi to clean up Gonzales’ mess.
Paul Clement: Clement’s stock as a replacement seems to be rising, with lots of folks hearkening back to profiles quoting people from both sides of aisle complimenting Clement for his intelligence. But note closely what these profiles hail Clement for: his ability to argue either side of an argument very effectively. That’s great when he’s defending Russ Feingold’s Campaign Finance before SCOTUS. But in the position of Attorney General, he would be arguing Bush’s side of the argument exclusively. Furthermore, Clement has already proven himself willing to rewrite the Constitution in the name of defending BushCo’s executive privilege claims. Lucky for us (because I suspect Democrats would pass his nomination), appointing Clement as AG doesn’t solve BushCo’s gaping holes in every management position at DOJ, since they’d just have to find another Solicitor General. So I suspect we will be spared this sophist as AG.
George Terwilliger: I find it curious that the name receiving most attention–after BushCo realized what a disaster appointing Chertoff would be–is one of Poppy’s guys, with close ties to Bush family consigliere James Baker. Terwilliger has been specializing in white collar defense of late, which might be considered a huge plus to those trying to get through the rest of Bush’s term with no indictments. Terwilliger’s ties to Republican scandal fixing are more remote than, say, Silberman. He was on the Bush Recount legal team. And, more ominously, Terwilliger oversaw the BCCI settlement, which saved the US some money in bailouts, but probably also increased the comfort level of the Saudis who had bankrolled the giant money-laundering scheme. I can’t imagine the Democrats opposing Terwilliger in force, which is probably why he’s a leading candidate.
Michael Mukasey: Mukasey is the former senior judge in SDNY (so I’m hoping maybe our local expert on that area might pipe in with an opinion) and he sounds like–given the options–a pretty good choice. Most notably, Mukasey took a "split the baby" position on an early Padilla decision; he ruled that Bush could designate him an enemy combatant (a decision that did not stand on appeal), but he also insisted that BushCo had to allow Padilla to see lawyers. I suspect that his name has been forwarded by the Democrats, most likely Chuck Schumer, who has supported him for a SCOTUS appointment as well. Which probably means his name is floating out there solely because Democrats are floating it, and not because BushCo is giving it serious consideration.