Democratic leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee warned yesterday that they would delay the confirmation of retired judge Michael Mukasey as attorney general unless the White House releases some controversial documents. Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the committee, said the Senate needs papers on the firings of federal prosecutors and domestic wiretapping program under Alberto Gonzales, who resigned as attorney general last month.

“Earth to Washington,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. “You finally have the right man for the right job at the right time. Try not to screw this one up.” Judge Mukasey, whom President Bush said yesterday he had picked to succeed Gonzales, has been knee-deep in the “tough legal issues” at the center of the war on terror since “six years before Sept. 11.” Mukasey understands “as well as any lawyer” in the country “what is normal and what is not normal about the war on terror.” He is a serious man, for serious times.

"Mukasey is clearly better than some of the ‘loyal Bushies’ whose names had been floated,” said The New York Times (free registration), “but that should not decide the matter.” He has a “good reputation” and is unlikely to “run the Justice Department as an adjunct of the White House,” as Bush’s old buddy Gonzales did. But he can also be “too deferential” to the government. One scary example came in the case of “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla, when Mukasey said it was OK to hold citizens indefinitely as “enemy combatants”—a ruling that fortunately was overturned on appeal.

That was a “troubling” ruling, it’s true, said USA Today in an editorial. But in the same case, Mukasey, 66, “defied the administration's wishes and ordered the government to give Padilla access to a lawyer.” Overall, Mukasey appears to be “smart, businesslike, and honest,” and the “early line” on him “is promising.” The most important thing for the Senate to consider is whether he can “restore integrity, credibility and independence to a Justice Department that has lost all three.”