Washington Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey told senators Wednesday he will reject White House political meddling and overstepping its authority in terrorism cases if approved to run the Justice Department.
He said he would resign if his legal or ethical doubts about administration policy are ignored.
Mukasey's plans for the scandal-scarred Justice Department starkly contrast with how it operated under the man who would be his immediate predecessor - former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Mukasey, a retired federal judge, said he also would review opinions issued by the department's Office of Legal Counsel to make sure they are legally sound. He described as "defective" a 2002 memo that defended the Bush administration's use of torture techniques against terrorism suspects.
That opinion "was worse than a sin, it was a mistake," Mukasey told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "It purported to justify measures based on broad grants of authority that were unnecessary."
Likewise, on politics, Mukasey said he would discourage his prosecutors from bringing charges against political candidates shortly before elections and would not let party loyalty be a consideration for people applying for Justice Department jobs.
"That's the standard I'm going to make very clear, very precise, and I'm going to enforce," Mukasey said.
It was a far cry from the policies Gonzales allowed before he resigned in September after months of criticism and questions about his honesty.
An internal Justice Department investigation is looking into whether Gonzales lied to lawmakers about the administration's terror programs and illegally let politics influence hiring and firing of prosecutors. Gonzales, a close friend of President Bush and a former Texas Supreme Court justice, has denied any wrongdoing.
The scandal tainted the Justice Department's long-cherished independent image and has demoralized its 110,000 employees.
"This is a job interview for a big job, a big job that has become even bigger," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "The next attorney general has to begin to regain the public trust."
Mukasey will all but certainly be confirmed as the nation's 81st attorney general, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., predicted he may win unanimous support from Democrats who control the Senate Judiciary Committee - a panel generally suspicious of Bush's nominees.
Wednesday was the first of potentially three days of committee hearings.