On the Path to Attorney General, Olson Runs Into a Roadblock

By Michael A. Fletcher
Monday, September 17, 2007

With President Bush settled on naming Michael B. Mukasey to replace former attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales, and intending to announce his choice as early as today, the man favored by many for the job has instead been passed over.

Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general, was said to be a White House favorite for the post. But talk of his possible nomination provoked a preemptive strike from Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who threatened that Senate Democrats would block the nomination.

That may have doomed Olson's prospects to replace Gonzales, according to several conservatives who talked to Washington Post reporters Michael Abramowitz and Dan Eggen over the weekend. One insider said that in spite of his outstanding legal credentials, Olson, who represented Bush in the Supreme Court fight over the contested 2000 election, would be seen by senators voting on his confirmation as "very political."

Democrats have already decried what they see as too much politics in the Justice Department, particularly in the firings of nine U.S. attorneys, an issue that placed Gonzales in months of increasingly painful clashes with Congress.

Olson also represented the conservative American Spectator magazine, which launched multiple investigations into the personal and business lives of Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 1990s. He has denied playing an active role in the investigations -- known as the Arkansas Project -- or even knowing much about them until late in the process.

That assurance was good enough for a former client of Olson's, Portfolio writer Matt Cooper. He described Olson, who defended him during the CIA leak investigation, on his blog as a principled, independent conservative.

"Ted Olson, unlike Alberto Gonzales, is incredibly well qualified, maybe the best qualified person, to take the job under a Republican president," wrote Cooper, whose wife works for Hillary Clinton. "What's more, he's right wing but not, I think, reflexively so. After all, he sided with former Associate Attorney General James Comey in that showdown with Alberto Gonzales and [former chief of staff] Andy Card at John Ashcroft's hospital room. He's got a civil libertarian streak; see his work on First Amendment issues."

Cooper's column came after Lanny J. Davis, a Democrat and former special counsel to President Clinton, wrote a piece endorsing Olson for the attorney general's job. Davis, who served with Olson on the president's five-person Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, called him someone with integrity who would "focus on the word 'Justice' in the Department's name."

For Snow, a Talkative Last Day

White House press secretary Tony Snow spent his last day on the job doing what he likes to do -- talking. He went on five network morning shows, then held forth at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with a couple dozen reporters at the Sofitel Hotel. When he left the West Wing for the last time as press secretary on Friday, a group of hundreds of White House aides surprised him on West Executive Avenue with rousing and emotional applause led by chief of staff Joshua B. Bolten.

Snow had the kind of celebrity that none of his predecessors achieved. And he confessed that there was a part of him intrigued at the thought of running for public office himself. But then he ruled it out. "No, no," he told the Monitor breakfast. "And I will not deny that it has its attraction. But no. For family reasons, I just can't do it. Look, I've got cancer. I want to fight cancer and spend time with my family."

Instead, Snow told us, he plans to do some public speaking, work with charitable organizations and write at least two books, one about politics and another about "healing and faith."

Rove's Farewell, With a Touch of Humor

Friday was a day of goodbyes at the White House. Bush and his team also held a farewell party for Karl Rove. The event came two weeks after Rove actually left his job, to ensure that all the right people could show up. The event in the East Room, closed to reporters, was highlighted by a reportedly hilarious slide show presented by Bolten. Bolten, offering a review of Rove's career at the White House, recalled how the president's guru got involved in agriculture, and up popped a picture of Rove wearing a corn headpiece from Nebraska. Then Bolten recalled Rove's interest in health care, and up popped an image of him in a surgical mask. In the end, there were a few tears, and an era was over.

White House Aspirations for Petraeus?

Gen. David H. Petraeus for president? It may seem unlikely given the partisan furor ignited last week by his congressional testimony on the progress of the Iraq war. But the British newspaper the Independent, quoting a senior Iraqi official, reported last week that Petraeus, the top commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, had expressed "long-term interest" in running for president several years ago. Stay tuned.

A Slogan Hits a Snag

"Return on Success" isn't the only new slogan the White House has developed in recent weeks. But sometimes the process works better than others. When Bush wanted to announce new initiatives to address the home mortgage crisis, aides wanted to call his program "HomeSaver." The only trick? A chimney and fireplace product company in Iowa already has the name trademarked. So the White House went instead with "FHA Secure," a name that didn't really please anyone, with many saying it sounded too much like a home security company.

New Appointments

Joel A. Scanlon has been named director of strategic initiatives, taking over the "think tank" within the White House long led by the departed Peter H. Wehner, who resigned this year. Before his appointment, Scanlon was deputy director of the office, and he is a former research assistant to syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Henry C. Lozano was named director of USA Freedom Corps. Lozano is the former president and chief executive of the nonprofit Californians for Drug-Free Youth.

Quote of the Week

Vice President Cheney, speaking at the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich.:

"I'm told researchers like to come and dig through my files, to see if anything interesting turns up. I want to wish them luck -- but the files are pretty thin. I learned early on that if you don't want your memos to get you in trouble some day, just don't write any."

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