Clinton scandals yielding benefits for GOP loyalists


WASHINGTON -- Back in the thick of the Clinton era, when scandal investigation seemed to be the town's chief form of recreation, lawyer Michael Chertoff sat by the side of then-Republican Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, doggedly grilling administration officials about everything from Arkansas real estate to a mysterious suicide, and suggesting the first lady was in the eye of the Whitewater storm.

Across town, Brett M. Kavanaugh, a young lawyer and longtime protege of Kenneth Starr, led the Whitewater independent counsel's inquiry into the death of Clinton White House counsel Vincent W. Foster Jr. and later would write much of the Starr report, thong details and all.

Viet D. Dinh, another young lawyer and rising star among conservative legal scholars, went from Whitewater investigator to Georgetown University law professor to TV pundit, guiding CNN viewers through the impeachment saga and calling the Lewinsky episode "a case about lies -- lies under oath and lies to the grand jury."

Today, these three lawyers, along with a number of other Republicans who made names for themselves as part of the extensive Clinton scandal industry -- what Hillary Rodham Clinton viewed darkly as a "vast right-wing conspiracy" -- have prominent places in the burgeoning Bush administration.

Chertoff has been named head of the criminal division at the Justice Department. Kavanaugh has become an associate White House counsel and Dinh has been tapped for assistant attorney general for policy development.

The appointment of those who were part of independent counsel or congressional probes into the previous president's activities or lent their voice to the constant hum of analysis and comment that became a soundtrack to the Clinton years points to the conservative bent of the Bush White House. The appointments also reflect that the new president, who ran as a Washington outsider, is relying heavily on the town's insiders to fill out his administration.

And the staffing of the administration also highlights the fact that those who played a role in taking down -- or at least trying to take down -- Clinton are now reaping benefits in the aftermath of his scandal-laden presidency.

"To be involved in such a battle is to demonstrate one's ideological credentials and zealotry," says Marshall Wittmann, a conservative analyst at the Hudson Institute. "Clearly, they got more visibility, and they've proven their ideological bona fides. They've passed the test at the ideological passport office."

It stands to reason that those who earned their conservative spurs in anti-Clinton pursuits should end up in key positions in the administration of a man who ran as a conservative. The crusade against Clinton is what "animated conservatism for the last eight years," Wittmann said.

Liberals who have opposed some of Bush's nominees, especially his choice for attorney general, agree. "There's no question the administration is shaping up as one of, if not the most right-wing in history, particularly in areas related to justice and the courts," says Elliot Mincberg, legal director at People for the American Way. "It's not a coincidence that that corresponds with people involved in the Clinton scandals. That was an important career step for many right-wing conservatives."

Some Democrats even see these appointments as payback. "This is the rewarding of the vast right that went on the crusade against the Clinton presidency," says Jennifer Backus, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee. "Bush has taken the vitriol he decried on the campaign trail and made it official."

But Republicans say these Bush appointees were likely candidates for jobs in a GOP administration with or without their Clinton-era battle ribbons.

The highest concentration of one-time Clinton antagonists can be found where the lawyers are -- the Justice Department and White House counsel's office.

At the top of the Justice chart is Attorney General John Ashcroft who, as a Missouri senator during the Lewinsky scandal, often led the anti-Clinton forces. He was one of the first members of Congress to call on Clinton to resign, introduced legislation to restrict the president's use of executive privilege claims and led hearings exploring whether a president could be subject to criminal indictment while in office. (He concluded one could.)

Several scandal alumni are in line to join Ashcroft at Justice if they receive Senate confirmation. They include Chertoff, chief counsel of the Senate Whitewater committee from 1995 to 1996, and Theodore B. Olson, newly appointed U.S. solicitor general.

Olson, who as solicitor general would supervise and conduct government litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court, most recently gained celebrity as lead counsel for Bush during the post-election recount battle, successfully arguing Bush's case before the high court.

But, as a close friend and defender of Starr, he was also highly visible during the Whitewater-Lewinsky chapters. He assisted Paula Corbin Jones' legal team in her sexual misconduct suit and represented Whitewater figure David Hale, a chief Clinton accuser, during Senate hearings.

Olson's wife, Barbara, who became a familiar TV commentator during the impeachment episode and wrote a scathing book about the then-first lady, "Hell to Pay," is said to be among those being considered for U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

"The Olsons, plural, were integral to the battle against Clinton," says Wittmann.

Also recently named to the Justice Department, as principal associate deputy attorney general, is Paul McNulty, chief spokesman for Republican Rep. Henry J. Hyde and the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment proceedings. And Dinh, who was an associate counsel on the Senate Whitewater committee and later became a regular on CNN's "Burden of Proof," is awaiting confirmation to the Justice post, where he would develop policy and assist with selecting judges.

The White House counsel's office, which takes the lead in identifying and screening prospective federal judges, is full of young lawyers with strong conservative credentials. Many are members of the conservative Federalist Society, of which Starr is a celebrated member, have clerked for conservative judges and Supreme Court justices and, not incidentally, had a hand in anti-Clinton enterprises.

Aside from being one of the chief authors of the Starr report, Kavanaugh, who had worked at Starr's Kirkland and Ellis law firm, argued unsuccessfully before the Supreme Court that attorney-client privilege did not apply to Vincent Foster after his death.

Timothy Flanigan, the new deputy White House counsel, testified before a House subcommittee in 1999, praising Starr's work as independent counsel. Bradford Berenson, a new associate counsel, became a TV pundit during the Lewinsky saga who was critical of Clinton and called the case against him a "slam-dunk perjury case."

Another associate counsel, H. Christopher Bartolomucci, worked in the mid-1990s as a Senate Whitewater investigator.

G. Calvin MacKenzie, visiting scholar with the Brookings Institution's Presidential Appointee Initiative, says the high number of scandal-related nominees -- relative to the small number of total appointments Bush has made -- reflects in part the tendency of more recent presidents to draw from the Washington talent pool.

From 1933 to 1964, only 26 percent of the president's high-level appointments came from Washington, in contrast to 58 percent from 1985 to 1999, says MacKenzie. He says he expects the level of Washington veterans tapped by Bush to be at least that high.

In contrast to the Californians who formed the crux of Ronald Reagan's administration or the Georgians who came north with Jimmy Carter, the center of gravity of the Bush administration seems to be men and women who served previous Republican presidents, MacKenzie says.

And it is no coincidence, says MacKenzie. "There is nothing random about the way a presidential administration comes together."

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