Friday, November 21, 2008

Attorney General Mukasey collapses during speech

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey collapsed last evening while delivering a speech to a prominent legal group and was rushed to George Washington University Hospital.

Mukasey remained at the hospital overnight for observation but a Justice Department spokesman said Mukasey had strong vital signs and was "in good spirits" after the incident, which occurred at an annual Federalist Society gathering. A person who attended the dinner said Mukasey was visibly shaking and perhaps slurring his words before he fell to the floor.

Video footage showed a tuxedo-clad Mukasey, 67, staggering behind a lectern as FBI agents in his security detail raced to his side.

D.C. fire and emergency services personnel were called to the Marriott Wardman Park hotel in the 2600 block of Woodley Road NW for a report of a man who had fainted in the main ballroom. Rescuers found a man suffering from a fainting spell, said Alan Etter, a D.C. fire department spokesman. Another source said the medics worked on Mukasey for about 10 minutes before taking him out of the ballroom on a gurney.

Etter declined to identify the man, citing privacy laws. The patient was conscious, had no trouble breathing and was able to speak with rescue personnel, Etter said.

A man other sources identified as Mukasey was taken to the hospital as a priority one patient as a precaution but apparently had a "general illness" that was not thought to be life-threatening, Etter said.

A second man, 29, from the audience was also taken to a hospital for observation after reporting that he was upset by the fainting spell, officials said. The two episodes prompted authorities to take hazardous material tests for potential dangers, but officials found no sign of harmful chemicals at the hotel.

A lawyer from New York at the black-tie dinner said Mukasey's speech became noticeably slower, and it appeared at first that he might be choking up.

"He was clearly struggling. Then his face went limp, he started shaking as if he were having a seizure, and then he fell back," said the lawyer, who was sitting 50 yards from the stage.

His security detail immediately ordered all the lights in the room to be dimmed and told guests not to leave the room. It took paramedics at least 15 minutes to arrive, a witness said, during which time the room was virtually silent. After Mukasey was taken out on a stretcher, someone asked that everyone say a prayer for him before the gathering dispersed.

Former Indiana representative David McIntosh (R) led the group in prayer after the incident.

Justice Department officials including Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip gathered at the hospital. In a formal statement released near midnight, department spokesman Peter Carr said: "The Attorney General is conscious, conversant and alert. He is receiving excellent care and appreciates all of the good wishes and prayers he has received. The doctors will keep him overnight for further observations."

Mukasey has served as the nation's chief law enforcement official since last winter. He is a retired federal judge from New York who accepted the taxing job because of his interest in counterterrorism and national security, a topic his remarks last evening addressed.

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