Political Capital with John Harwood

Clement Replacing Gonzales: More Than An 'Acting' AG?

Solicitor General Paul Clement

White House sources confirm that U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement will serve as acting Attorney General once Alberto Gonazles leaves the Justice Department in mid-September. And to judge from initial soundings across Washington, no one will be surprised if Clement eventually becomes President Bush's choice to fill the job for the remainder of his term.

Senate Democrats see him as one of two early candidates for the job, along with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. Within the White House, there's caution and skepticism about the Chertoff speculation--and praise for Clement as someone capable enough to relieve the pressure for hasty action.

Moreover, check out this praise for Clement from House Republican Whip Roy Blunt, who's always been close to the White House. "As a former counsel to Sen. John Ashcroft, Paul has proven himself over the years to be in possession of a sophisticated and thoughtful legal mind," Blunt said in a news release. "And as the current solicitor general of the United States, he knows what it takes to be an effective advocate on behalf of the people of this country."

Attorney General Resigns

Consider these three political assets that Clement would boast. He was Supreme Court editor of the Harvard Law Review. He served as clerk for Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia (OK, that only helps with Republicans). And he's a native of Wisconsin, increasingly a swing state in presidential politics. Business might find him an ally as well; as my CNBC colleague Linda Sittenfeld points out, Clement as Solicitor General sided with business over shareholders in a key securities litigation case that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear in October.

None that assures his selection. But at a time when Bush must battle for everything on a Democratic-controlled Capitol Hill, tapping the acting Attorney General in the name of continuity could prove the path of least resistance.

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