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'Mad Dog' Is Misnomer, Says GOP Counsel

By Guy Gugliotta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 30, 1997; Page A21

Michael J. Madigan is not hard to spot. He's the bantam figure with the wiry red hair, the scraggly beard and the outlandish ties that glare like a highway beacon across the Hart Senate Office Building's cavernous hearing room.

"I'm comfortable under the lights," said Madigan, who has done as much high visibility lawyering on Capitol Hill over the years as anyone. "I like ties that keep me awake in the afternoon."

The majority counsel to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee is a veteran trial lawyer and Washington insider who walked away from a lucrative partnership in Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld early this year to lead the Republican investigation of campaign finance abuses in the 1996 elections.

And with public hearings in their fourth week, Madigan can be spotted most days sitting to the immediate left of committee Chairman Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.), a man he describes as "one of my two or three best friends in the world."

Madigan was tapped for the job late last year as soon as the newly reelected Thompson learned that he would become chairman of Governmental Affairs and be charged with running what could prove to be the highest profile political event of 1997.

"He called me up and asked me out to dinner," Madigan said. "Then he told me, `It's time for you to do a little public service.' " By early January, Madigan had resigned from Akin, Gump to join Thompson.

Madigan, now 54, was born in Washington, the eldest son of an FBI agent. He spent his childhood moving every few years, but returned to the capital to attend law school at the Catholic University of America, where he graduated in 1968.

He was a 30-year-old assistant U.S. attorney when he applied in 1973 for a job with Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) and the minority Republican staff of the Senate Watergate Committee.

"I had decided by that time that I would eventually enter private practice," Madigan said. "But I thought then, as I think now, that to make it as a lawyer in Washington you need some experience in the legislative branch, not just the executive."

Baker's minority counsel was Thompson, himself a former assistant U.S. attorney less than a year older than Madigan. "When we started as U.S. attorneys, they paid $8,500 a year," Madigan said. "Now we pay $72,000 at Akin, Gump for somebody just out of law school."

United by age, background and their relative poverty, Madigan and Thompson "hit it off right away," Madigan said, and "I became the token Yankee" on the Baker team, with the title of assistant minority counsel.

It was during Watergate that Madigan acquired the nickname "Mad Dog," after an hours' long interview with columnist Jack Anderson. As Madigan tells it, Baker was worried that his newest protege was taking too long, and sent an aide to find out what was going on.

The aide reported – to Baker's delight – that Madigan was "chewing on him [Anderson] like a mad dog," Madigan said. To this day, he added, Baker "calls me nothing but `Mad Dog.' "

Still, despite the flamboyant ties, Madigan claims the nickname is a misnomer. "I use it [rage] only when it's necessary," said Madigan. "I don't ever recall being nasty."

After Watergate, Madigan stayed on briefly as counsel to Baker, serving under Baker as minority counsel during the Church committee hearings on abuses by intelligence and law enforcement agencies and finally becoming minority counsel for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

In 1976, he joined Akin, Gump, where he specialized in white collar crime, both in and out of government. He won an acquittal in 1978 for Rep. Edward J. Patten (D-N.J.), charged with campaign law violations in the Korean congressional bribery scandal.

Madigan founded Akin, Gump's pro bono committee and was a leading supporter of the American Bar Association's "pro bono challenge," calling on law firms to devote 3 percent of their billable hours to pro bono clients.

Although Akin, Gump is generally known for its Democratic ties – partner Robert S. Strauss is a former Democratic party chief – Madigan is a lifelong Republican who contributes "about $5,000 per election" to candidates he likes, among them Thompson. He believes in "basic Republican principles of smaller government and lower taxes," but is "moderate to possibly liberal" on social issues; he advocates abortion rights.

Minority Counsel Alan I. Baron, his opposite number in the Governmental Affairs investigation, regards Madigan as "a superb lawyer, and personally we get along well – we've even gone to ballgames together."

At this stage in his career, Madigan regards himself predominately as a trial lawyer, a skill he studies as "an art form." Says Madigan: "Without being arrogant about it, I think I have a very good understanding. I can examine any witness at any time about anything."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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