A June 9 A-section article on the hiring of new White House lawyers mischaracterized the status of congressional subpoenas seeking testimony from several White House officials. House and Senate committees have authorized the subpoenas but have not formally issued them. The article also incorrectly said that Richard W. Painter, the White House's chief ethics lawyer, will leave that job next month and rejoin the faculty of the University of Illinois College of Law. Painter will teach at the University of Minnesota Law School.
Besieged White House Reinforces Counsel's Office
Saturday, June 9, 2007
President Bush has authorized another surge -- this time in the White House counsel's office. Facing a blizzard of congressional investigations, hearings and subpoenas, the White House has hired a new crop of lawyers to do battle with the Democratic Congress.
White House counsel Fred F. Fielding, brought in by Bush in January when the opposition took over Capitol Hill, announced the appointment of nine new lawyers yesterday, including J. Michael Farren, former general counsel of Xerox Corp., as his deputy. A source said Fielding has also recruited Stephen D. Potts, a longtime head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, to be ethics counsel.
The legal reinforcements arrive at a time when the White House is under siege on multiple fronts. Congressional investigators are looking into the dismissal of U.S. attorneys, the disappearance of White House e-mail, internal disputes over warrantless surveillance, partisan activities in federal agencies, various aspects of the Iraq war and other issues. A counsel's office that had little to worry about when Republicans controlled Congress now finds itself the president's first line of defense.
"Obviously, there's been an increase in requests from the Hill, and we want to make sure we have the appropriate level of staff in place," said White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore. Some of the new lawyers are filling vacancies, she said, but five represent additional slots, bringing the office's total to 22 lawyers -- still shy of its size under President Bill Clinton, who faced numerous special prosecutors, not to mention impeachment.
Since Democrats assumed control of Congress, they have moved aggressively to exercise oversight of the Bush administration. So far, they have held more than 200 full-committee oversight hearings. If subcommittees are included, they have had 195 hearings related to Iraq. Altogether, Congress has authorized 25 subpoenas and many more requests for information.
To deal with the onslaught, Fielding assembled a team combining fellow Washington veterans and younger lawyers. Farren, who served as President George H.W. Bush's undersecretary of commerce and deputy campaign manager, took over as deputy counsel on May 31, replacing William K. Kelley, who will return to his teaching job at Notre Dame at the end of this month.
Kelley has been caught up in the U.S. attorney controversy. He was involved in meetings and e-mails that discussed whether to fire some U.S. attorneys. One fired prosecutor, John McKay of Seattle, has said he was asked during a meeting with Kelley and then-White House counsel Harriet Miers why Republicans in Washington state were angry at him, raising the question of whether his dismissal was political. Lawmakers have subpoenaed Miers and Kelley, but the White House has declined to make them available.
The Potts hire, which has not yet been announced, impressed even Democrats. Potts headed the Office of Government Ethics for 10 years under the elder Bush and Clinton, and more recently served as chairman of the nonprofit Ethics Resource Center, where Fielding was vice chairman. Potts will replace Richard W. Painter as the chief ethics lawyer for the White House. Painter, who joined the counsel's office in 2005, will return to the University of Illinois College of Law to teach.
Fielding raided his old law firm, Wiley Rein & Fielding, for some of its talent, hiring Kate Todd, Amy F. Dunathan and Al Lambert. He also brought back William Burck, who recently left the White House to work at the Justice Department; two former federal prosecutors, Michael Purpura and Scott Coffina; and Emmet T. Flood and Francis Q. Hoang of Williams & Connolly. All eight received degrees from Ivy League schools or from West Point.
Though Fielding is respected on both sides of the aisle, Democrats say he has not met their need for testimony. When lawmakers sought to hear from Miers, Kelley and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, Fielding refused to let them testify in open session, offering instead to let them be deposed behind closed doors, not under oath and without any recording or transcript. Democrats rejected that and issued the subpoenas. The two sides remain at an impasse.