With current speculation rampant about an imminent departure (either by resignation or being asked to step down) of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, it would only be appropriate to provide relevant information about those mentioned as a possible replacement.
Some mentioned as early candidates include current administration officials as well as other long-term former government officials. And even though it may be premature to speculate on the next Attorney General, it is not too soon to compile a "dossier" on people perceived as frontrunners to replace Gonzales as Attorney General.
Snapshots of five of the individuals whose names have been mentioned so far -- 1) Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, (2) SEC Chairman Chris Cox, (3) White House anti-terrorism advisor Francis Fragos Townsend, (4) former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and (5) former Solicitor General Theodore Olsen -- begin below.
1. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff:
As far as credentials go, Chertoff has a strong resume. Per his bio on the White House website:
Chertoff formerly served as United States Circuit Judge for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
Secretary Chertoff was previously confirmed by the Senate to serve in the Bush Administration as Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice. As Assistant Attorney General, he helped trace the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the al-Qaida network, and worked to increase information sharing within the FBI and with state and local officials.
Prior to that, Chertoff spent more than a decade as a federal prosecutor, including service as U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, and Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. As United States Attorney, Chertoff investigated and prosecuted several significant cases of political corruption, organized crime, and corporate fraud.
Despite the White House's glowing resume, however, there are some issues surrounding Chertoff that can not be ignored. For starters, as head of Homeland Security, he was ultimately responsible for the lack of planning with respect to Hurricane Katrina. Even though, in 2001, FEMA declared a major hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast one of the three most likely catastrophes, Chertoff admitted there was no plan for dealing with this scenario and that it was not anticipated by government planners. Indeed, his overall handling of the response to Hurricane Katrina was roundly criticized.
Chertoff was also heavily criticized for the handling of foreign nationals in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. After the attacks, Chertoff, in his capacity as an assistant attorney general, was responsible for some controversial immigration rules as they related to the "War on Terror" :
As an assistant attorney general in the months after the attacks, Chertoff helped oversee the detention of 762 foreign nationals for immigration violations; none of them was charged with terrorism-related crimes. A subsequent report by the Justice Department's inspector general determined that Justice's "no bond" policy for the detainees -- a tactic whose legality was questioned at the time by immigration officials -- led to lengthy delays in releasing them from prison, where some faced "a pattern of physical and verbal abuse."
2. SEC Chairman Christopher Cox:
Cox is the current SEC Chairman, who was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on July 29, 2005. Prior to his appointment to the SEC, Cox served in the House of Representatives (chairing numerous committees), and spent two years as Senior Associate Counsel to President Reagan. His academic credentials are impressive as well:
In 1977, Chairman Cox simultaneously received an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and a J.D. from Harvard Law School, where he was an Editor of the Harvard Law Review. He received a B.A. from the University of Southern California in 1973, graduating magna cum laude after pursuing an accelerated three-year course.
Cox also spent eight years (1978 - 1986) with the law firm Latham & Watkins, where he specialized in venture capital and corporate finance.
In September 2006, Cox testified before Congress with respect to the stock option backdating scandal, and discussed how he has worked towards tightening up the laws with respect to executive compensation issues. However, as reported recently by Forbes, he has backtracked:
On the Friday before Christmas, when not a creature was stirring, not even the press, Cox stepped back from his mission of making executive compensation disclosure more complete.
With scarcely a comment period, he decided to let stock options be reported as isolated expenses in the current audit year. Total compensation to the individual executive is once again a number to be painstakingly summed up from various footnotes and other small-print entries.
Cox thus gave a humongous holiday present to the business community, which had lobbied hard to de-emphasize compensation totals because they tend to look, well, bad.
The biggest question about Cox in his position as SEC Chairman is that he is "too business friendly," although that is less of a commentary on his qualifications than it is on his political leanings. However, when it comes to his qualifications for Attorney General, it would appear that, while Cox has a pretty impressive resume, its focus is more on business, venture capital and finance, rather than on issues of justice and law enforcement which one would assume are more typically the realm of Atttorney Generals.
3. Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Frances Fragos Townsend:
Townsend spent a number of years as a prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice prior to her appointment as Homeland Security Advisor in May 2004. According to her official bio:
Ms. Townsend came to the White House from the U. S. Coast Guard, where she had served as Assistant Commandant for Intelligence. Prior to that, Ms. Townsend spent 13 years at the U. S. Department of Justice in a variety of senior positions, her last assignment as Counsel to the Attorney General for Intelligence Policy. Ms. Townsend began her prosecutorial career in 1985, serving as an Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn, New York.
Townsend also served under Rudy Giuliani in the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan, and worked under Janet Reno in the Clinton administration. While she has a long list of experience that makes her qualified to be Attorney General, her career has had its share of controversy. As noted in the US News article linked above, she came under fire in her capacity as head of the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) on two related issues -- enforcement of the FISA laws regarding wiretaps (prior to 9/11) and the impact that this may have had on the attacks themselves:
Many FBI agents say Townsend was crucial in obtaining FISA wiretaps, especially during the period of heightened terrorism concerns around the new millennium. But many prosecutors felt that Townsend was less than helpful in making sure the FBI shared wiretap data with lawyers at Main Justice when there was evidence of criminal activity. Townsend believed that the FISA court and its chief judge at the time, Royce Lamberth, would refuse to approve search warrants and wiretaps if they believed too much information sharing was going on and if prosecutors were controlling or directing the intelligence-gathering efforts. One knowledgeable source backs her up and says Townsend "cared very much about following procedures." But others suspect an ulterior motive. Some Justice Department prosecutors felt Townsend wanted to keep the wall up because it kept prosecutors out of national security investigations, leaving more authority in the hands of Townsend and friendly bureau agents.
Whatever the case, there were serious consequences. Both the Government Accountability Office and the 9/11 commission have blamed OIPR in part for the government's intelligence failures before the terrorist attacks. Sources say that OIPR's narrow interpretation of FISA led to misunderstandings and overly cautious behavior by the FBI. As a result, in July and August of 2001, FBI intelligence analysts prohibited their own criminal-case agents from searching for two men on the government's terrorist watch list who they knew had entered the United States. The men later proved to be two of the 19 hijackers. The 9/11 commission said OIPR had become the "sole gatekeeper" of FISA intelligence by arguing that "its position reflected the concerns" of Judge Lamberth. "The office threatened that if it could not regulate the flow of information to criminal prosecutors, it would no longer present the FBI's warrant requests to the FISA court," the report said. "The information flow withered."
4. Former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson:
In 2005, Thompson was mentioned as a potential Supreme Court nominee before the appointment of Samuel Alito. Currently, Thompson serves in the private sector as Senior Vice President Government Affairs, General Counsel and Secretary for PepsiCo. He is a close friend of Justice Clarence Thomas (he was also a witness and advisor for Thomas during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings), and was the Deputy Attorney General under John Ashcroft until 2004, when he left the Justice Department for a position with the Brookings Institute before moving on to his position with PepsiCo.
According to the Washington Post article cited above, Thompson handled prosecution of both anti-terrorism and corporate crimes:
In addition to his daily involvement in the department's stepped-up efforts to uncover terrorist threats, Thompson has also headed the corporate crime task force pursuing prosecutions against industry giants including Enron Corp., Worldcom Inc. and HealthSouth Corp.
Thompson had two stints with and was a partner in the Atlanta law firm of King & Spalding, specializing in civil and criminal litigation. According to his bio on the Brookings website, he also served as U.S. Attorney in Georgia:
Thompson, appointed by President Bush, was confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in May 2001. As deputy attorney general, he spearheaded the administration's Corporate Fraud Task Force, created in July 2002 as part of an effort to prevent corporate scandals and restore investor confidence in the marketplace. Immediately after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Thompson served as chairman of the president's National Security Coordination Council, which was charged with assessing vulnerabilities in the nation's private, governmental, and industrial sectors.
Before going to the Justice Department, Thompson was a partner at the Atlanta law firm King and Spalding, where he specialized in civil and criminal litigation. In 1982, he was appointed by President Reagan to serve as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. During his four years as U.S. attorney, Thompson directed the Southeastern Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force and served on the attorney general's Economic Crime Council.
Out of all of the possible names being floated as a potential replacement, it would seem as if Thompson has the most qualifications and the least controversy.
5. Former Solicitor General Theodore Olson:
According to his bio from the Department of Justice:
Mr. Olson served President Reagan as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel from 1981 to 1984. Before being named to that post, he was a partner in the Los Angeles office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where he practiced constitutional, media, commercial and appellate litigation. After completing his service as Assistant Attorney General, Mr. Olson returned to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, in its Washington, D.C. office, engaging in the practice of constitutional and appellate law and general litigation, and served as Partner-in-Charge of that office, on the firm's Executive and Management Committees and as co-chair of the firm's Appellate and Constitutional Law Practice Group.
Olson also argued a number of cases before the Supreme Court, including the one he may be remembered for the most: Bush v. Gore in 2000. He also argued Cheney v. US regarding the disclosure of information related to Cheney's energy commission. Olson has been repeatedly linked with highly partisan issues and if nominated, his confirmation hearings would certainly be tenuous. When he was nominated for Solicitor General, a vote was held up by the Senate Judiciary Committee due to questions surrounding his involvement (and his responses regarding) the Arkansas Project, which was a $2.4 million project financed by Richard Scaife in the American Spectator to "dig up dirt on President Clinton."
According to a former publisher of American Spectator, Olson was not forthcoming with the Senate regarding his involvement in the Arkansas Project:
Ronald Burr confirmed to a friend and advisor that Olson was centrally involved in the Arkansas Project -- and led the charge to fire him after Burr demanded an audit.
Olson has adamantly asserted that he in no way played any part in managing the operation, and has claimed not to have heard about it until late in its life span, though he has been inconsistent in his answers about when he first learned of the project.
Now, on the day that Republicans are forcing a vote on Olson's confirmation, a friend and advisor to Ronald Burr, the deposed publisher of the American Spectator who once called for an internal "fraud audit" of the Arkansas Project, has written a letter faxed to Salon, [reprinted below]. According to previous reports in Salon, Olson was reported to have negotiated Burr's $350,000 severance package, which included "a provision that bars Burr from ever publicly discussing the circumstances surrounding his removal." Lemley says he played the role of "counselor and advisor to Ron during the events that led to his release by the American Spectator after thirty years of service." Lemley claims he learned from Burr that Olson knew of the Arkansas Project "if not in name then in its actions from the start, and Ted Olson led the charge to fire Ron Burr, the only executive at the American Spectator who had sought a forensic audit of the Arkansas Project."
Olsen's involvement was further confirmed by an investigation by Murray Waas:
An investigation by Murray Waas revealed that Olson "provided legal advice to both the American Spectator and the Arkansas Project," in addition to serving on the boards of four conservative political groups funded by Richard Mellon Scaife, the reclusive Pittsburgh billionaire who has funded and has ties to many prominent right-wing groups, including the Federalist Society, which has served as a veritable breeding ground for Bush's judiciary appointments. Both Olson and his then-colleague John Mintz at the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher advised the Arkansas Project from its inception in 1993. "Olson is somebody who Scaife would trust to see that nothing went wrong and that his money would not be wasted," a source told Waas at the time.
Olson was also involved in the legal representation of an oil tycoon who was suspiciously pardoned at the end of George H.W. Bush's administration:
The elder Bush delivered a few highly questionable pardons well before his last days in office. The very first of his presidency went to Armand Hammer, the legendary oilman best known for his relationships with Soviet leaders dating back to Lenin. In an investigation that grew out of Watergate, Hammer had pleaded guilty in 1975 to laundering $54,000 in illicit contributions to Nixon's reelection war chest. By the summer of 1989, when Bush gave Hammer what he wanted, the aging chief of Occidental Petroleum had been pestering government officials on his own behalf for several years.
Considering his original offense, it was ironic that Hammer won what he called the "vindication" of a presidential pardon only months after he poured well over $100,000 into Republican Party coffers, and another $100,000 into the accounts of the Bush-Quayle Inaugural committee.
At the time, Hammer's pardon made news, partly because his request had been turned down by President Reagan several months earlier. But nobody seemed to notice the nexus between the oilman's generosity to Bush and the new president's mercy upon Hammer.
Another intriguing fact went almost unnoticed back then, too. Hammer's team of attorneys included not only a close friend of Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, but also a very close friend of Bush's new White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, whose job included passing on pardon requests to the president. The Gray pal hired to help Hammer was a former Reagan Justice Department official named Theodore B. Olson.
Clearly, Olson would be the one candidate whose past would be most subject to scrutiny if he is nominated as a replacement for Attorney General Gonzales. In fact, his nomination may not even pass the confirmation process, given the long history of questionable actions and his track record with the Republican Party.
Even with all of the speculation and calls for resignation or the ouster of Attorney General Gonzales, this is unlikely to be resolved in the short term. Since the White House and Congress have been squaring off on every issue - from Iraq to the US Attorney firings to Executive Privilege claims and many other matters, and given the history between Gonzales and President Bush, we may not see Gonzales resign or be fired unless he is facing impeachment and conviction. However, in light of the fact that a number of people are being mentioned as future candidates for Attorney General, it behooves us to find out a bit more about these potential candidates.
About the Author: Adam Lambert is a tax consultant living and working in the New York City area. Blogging under the name “clammyc," he has researched and written extensively on issues involving Iraq, the Bush administration and the “war on terror.”
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