W. Lee Rawls, Senate chief of staff and counsel to FBI director, dies at 66

By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 11, 2010; 9:20 PM

W. Lee Rawls, who worked on Capitol Hill for more than 30 years as a government official, lobbyist and lawyer, died Dec. 5 of acute leukemia at George Washington University Hospital. He was 66.

Until 2009, Mr. Rawls was the chief of staff and senior counsel to FBI Director Robert Mueller. He also had served as assistant attorney general for legislative affairs under President George H.W. Bush and, from 2003 to 2005, as chief of staff to then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

In the private sector, Mr. Rawls had been a partner in the Houston-based law firm of Vinson & Elkins and a managing partner in the Washington office of Baker Donelson, the firm of former Senate Majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr.

Mr. Rawls also had been a vice president of the lobbying firm Van Scoyoc Kelly and led government relations efforts for Pennzoil and the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

He had taught at the National Defense University in Washington and the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg and had been a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

In his 2009 book, "In Praise of Deadlock: How Partisans Make Better Law," Mr. Rawls argued in favor of Washington's much-maligned political process and staunchly defended the Senate filibuster as a tool necessary to force the party in power to compromise with the minority.

"My view is that whatever bipartisanship, moderation, continuity and consensus that are anywhere to be found in the American legislative process come from the filibuster," he said in testimony before the Senate rules committee earlier this year.

William Lee Rawls was born in Newport, R.I., and graduated from Princeton University. He received a law degree from George Washington University and began his career as a legislative specialist with the Environmental Protection Agency.

By 1975, he had become chief of staff for Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.). He held that position until 1980 and again from 1982 to 1985, when Domenici was chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and a senior member of the appropriations committee.

Mr. Rawls was a member of the Edgemoor Club in Bethesda. He had played tennis for Princeton and retained a lifelong fondness for the game.

Survivors include his wife, Linda Baumgartner Rawls of Kensington; three children, William Rawls and Richard Rawls, both of Washington, and Julie Seils of Laytonsville; four brothers; two sisters; and four grandsons.

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