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Beyond Washington

"He focuses like a laser on problems and goes for the jugular," Belnick said. "The jury knows that when Reid stands up, their time is not going to be wasted."

Raised in Newark by a supermarket owner and a published poet, Weingarten attended -- and was briefly thrown out of -- Cornell University, where he studied philosophy and intellectual history and played basketball.

"If you come into my office with a story that moves me, I'll take your case. My firm gives me that freedom," Reid H. Weingarten says. (Yoni Brook For The Washington Post)

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After touring the world a bit, he enrolled at Dickinson Law School in Pennsylvania and discovered his calling during an internship in the local prosecutor's office. From his first appearance in court, Weingarten said, "I knew in my gut that this was where I belonged."

Next stop was the Justice Department's public integrity section where he met Holder and spent more than a decade trying to put corrupt officials behind bars.

"I believed in the mandate, do what's right," said Weingarten, who describes himself as a child of the 1960s. "I took as much pleasure in declining a case that shouldn't be brought as in bringing cases. But once I crossed the line I was a monster."

Weingarten had a hand in many of the period's biggest corruption cases, including then-Rep. John W. Jenrette Jr. (D-S.C.), caught on tape taking bribes in an FBI sting, and Mississippi's chief federal judge Walter L. Nixon Jr., convicted of lying to a grand jury. He also served a stint in the Iran-Contra investigation, prosecuting retired Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord for lying to Congress about the affair.

He also returned briefly to government service in 1991 to investigate allegations that President Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign conspired with Iranian officials to delay the release of American hostages there until after the 1980 election.

Steptoe has been his home since 1987, and he's never looked back. About 70 percent of the firm's 400 lawyers are litigators, with particular strengths in white-collar defense and civil litigation on behalf of large companies, such as insurance firms. The firm, which has been growing rapidly, also has a strong telecommunications practice. Though it now has six offices, Steptoe remains firmly rooted in Washington, where two-thirds of the lawyers are based.

Weingarten said Steptoe allows him to take cases he believes in, even when the clients can't pay the full fare. And the firm's compensation committee rewards its lawyers for their contribution to the firm overall, rather than by seniority or the revenue they bring in, said the firm's chairman, Roger E. Warin.

"If you come into my office with a story that moves me, I'll take your case. My firm gives me that freedom," Weingarten said.

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