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Power of Attorney

Eytan Kobre

He’s incurred the wrath of Congressional liberals, and even faced down death threats. But political foes never ruffled Michael Mukasey, former US Attorney General and past chief judge of Manhattan’s federal courts — the only observant Jew ever to hold either post. Yet it wasn’t all opposition, like when President Bush “put his arm around my shoulder and told me I had real guts.”

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

“History doesn’t come with a musical score to tell you when the dramatic moments are arriving — you’ve got to figure that out yourself.” I’m sitting with Michael Mukasey in his office at the tony Manhattan law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton as he utters that line, and although he’s referring to world events in our turbulent age, it could as easily refer to his own eventful life in the public eye. It has been only a few short years since his time as Attorney General of the United States under George W. Bush and before that, as chief judge of Manhattan’s federal courts — the only observant Jew ever to hold either post. And in this age of global Islamic terrorism, those positions brought him to the center of the heated debates that have deeply divided America along lines of red and blue. Knowing something of Mr. Mukasey’s record of accomplishment, it’s hard for me not to feel some dissonance as I take stock of the avuncular-looking gentleman on the other side of the desk. A 70-something man of conservative dress and mild-mannered demeanor, he could easily be, indeed is, someone’s zeidy. But he’s also the eminent jurist who presided magisterially over the trial of the infamous “blind sheikh,”OmarAbdel-Rahman, and nine codefendants for plotting to blow up the United Nations and other New York City landmarks. After a trial that lasted the better part of a year, Rahman and El Sayyid Nosair, the murderer ofMeirKahane, were sentenced to life in prison. Later, asAttorney GeneralMukasey, he faced down the fury of liberals in the Senate and the media over the controversial interrogation practice of waterboarding, which critics call torture but proponents say has helped save American lives.

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