Saturday, August 09, 2003
Update re Jamie Gorelick's purported conflict of interest to serve on the 9/11 Commission
Since I first posted on this subject, Mr. Meredith has been kind enough to drop me a friendly email in which he mentioned that he may have some thoughts on my arguments that he'll post in detail when other commitments permit him the time. I look forward to reading it!
Tom Maguire, who blogs Just One Minute very eloquently and effectively, also left a kind and perceptive comment here on BeldarBlog — my first! He also posted a consecutive pair of comments on Mr. Meredith's original post, and — best of all — a fine post on his own blog that pithily reviews both Mr. Meredith's and my own posts, and then provides considerable more factual information and some enlightened opinion about Ms. Gorelick. He apologized for "soundbit[ing]" what he generously describes as my "long and entertaining post" (thanks!), but he did so very crisply and accurately.
More specifically, Mr. Maguire highlighted in considerable detail some of the other footprints that Ms. Gorelick has left behind in her prior practice in Washington. These include a basis for various folks to allege that Ms. Gorelick was Hillary's "eyes and ears" in the Janet Reno Justice Department, corrupted the Flight 800 probe, and impeded attempts to investigate China's efforts to influence the 1996 election. Mr. Maguire suggests, and I certainly agree, that these allegations ought to be taken with a grain or two of salt. But I also agree that they are more grist for the mill of the conspiracy theorists and hyper-partisan spin artists of either political persuasion.
As a lawyer, though, if you're running with the big dogs when the big dogs get into their biggest dogfights, you have to expect to get splattered with some dog slobber from time to time. I don't yet see anything negative here about Ms. Gorelick that rises above the dog slobber category, frankly.
I do need to make some more self-disclosure, however, for you conspiracy theorists out in the blogosphere — and it sort of helps to illustrate my main argument, I hope:
- From 1981-1987 I was an associate in the trial department at what's now Baker Botts LLP in Houston, which I noticed, after I had made my original post, is the main subject of the Michael Isakoff & Mark Hosenball piece in Newsweek/MSNBC last April 16 that Mr. Meredith cited as his source to establish that WC&P represents Saudi Prince Mohammed al Faisal in litigation against 9/11 victims. Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III is a Baker Botts partner (and the great-grandson of the "Baker" who founded it, IIRC). Secretary Baker and the Baker Botts firm, including current trial department head Darryl Bristow — who's as capable and flamboyant a "real trial lawyer" as I've ever known, notwithstanding his taste for wearing French cuffs and handmade cowboy boots at the same time in court — were also prominent among Dubya's counsel in the Florida election litigation in 2000. Before the Reagan administration, though, strict anti-nepotism rules kept Jim Baker from joining Baker Botts, so we never practiced together and I've never met him. I remain, however, an unabashed fan of that firm, and I'm a friend to many of its lawyers who once were my colleagues and who more lately have sometimes been my esteemed opponents (including Bristow).
- Richard Ben-Veniste is another well-credentialed Washington heavy-hitter and sometimes-described "Clintonista" Democrat who Dubya appointed to the Commision. Sometime in 1988-1991, he and I overlapped on the partnership rolls of New York-based megafirm Weil, Gotshal & Manges — he in its Washington office and I in Houston. I don't recall that he and I ever met, and he's now at the Washington office of Chicago-based Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw (against whose lawyers I've also appeared from time to time, and in fact am opposing now in a case pending in federal court in Chicago).
So it's a small, small world out there — top-flight lawyers and their clients and their law firms tend to have layered connections to each other that, in fact, remind me of the way hyperlinks connect everything on the Internet!
My own tangential connections aptly demonstrate that in order to find lawyer-members for the 9/11 Commission with no connections to any major players, you'd have to either dip way too deep into the talent pool and/or go way outside the Beltway. Doing either would, in my humble opinion, sap the credibility and likely effectiveness of the participants to an unacceptable degree, given what I believe to be the very remote and minimal substantive risks from any arguable conflict of interest on the part of Ms. Gorelick.
Sophisticated consumers of legal services make reasoned decisions on whether to waive conflicts of interest, or instead to hire someone else altogether, every day in the business world. They do so because in their nuanced, rational, but subjective assessments, they perceive that the lawyer or law firm with the alleged potential conflict will bring qualities to the representation that considerably outweigh the risks from the potential conflict. My ultimate point here is that we, the American people, ought to try to be sophisticated enough and confident enough to make such a judgment here: John Q. Public is better served by waiving Ms. Gorelick's potential conflict of interest than by losing the benefit of her participation on the 9/11 Commission.
As the information ably blogged by Mr. Maguire makes clear, for the Dubya Administration folks who were choosing members for the 9/11 Commission, the close partisan political connections of Ms. Gorelick and Mr. Ben-Veniste to the Democratic party and to the Bill-and-Hillary Show probably constituted far more substantial grounds to resist their selection. And yet it's connections and experience of that sort and on that level which made them valuable candidates to begin with. That's why a Vernon Jordan or a Bob Strauss or a Lloyd Cutler find themselves serving as confidential advisers to Presidents of both parties. None of these folks are without a perceived or perceivable wart somewhere, so the (slightly mixed) metaphorical question becomes, "Do we cut off all their noses (with those perceivable warts) to spite the Nation's face?"
Correction: "After further review," as they say in the NFL, I've learned that only the Commission chairmanship appointment was Dubya's to make. The other nine members were chosen through a rather complicated bi-partisan process that involved leaders from both parties. I don't know specifically who picked either Ms. Gorelick or Mr. Ben-Veniste, but I assume it was someone from the Democratic side of the aisles. The enabling legislation also required that members can't be current government employees, and expressed the "the sense of Congress that individuals appointed to the Commission should be prominent United States citizens, with national recognition and significant depth of experience in such professions as governmental service, law enforcement, the armed services, law, public administration, intelligence gathering, commerce (including aviation matters), and foreign affairs."
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