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Democrat Is Familiar Face on the HillBy Guy Gugliotta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 30, 1997; Page A21
Alan I. Baron is a lean and rangy fellow with an Ivy League haircut and the buttoned-down demeanor to match. Television viewers who saw an unflappable Baron last Sunday on "CNN Late Edition" never knew that only minutes before the show, a mugger had stuck a butcher's knife in his face and taken his wallet.
"I went on the show, and I had to keep reminding myself, `Don't flash back to the robbery,' " he said. When the show was over, he told the story to police, revisited the scene of the crime and found keys and sunglasses. Later a passerby phoned him to say he had found his wallet and credit cards. "I lost about $10," he said.
Baron prides himself on being low-key and a quick study, and both traits served him well on Capitol Hill's mean streets. He also likes to be "very well prepared," which is not always possible.
In fact, Baron, 55, confesses to being taken by surprise when Democrats on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee picked him to lead their investigation into financial improprieties in the 1996 elections.
"I like going back and forth from private practice to government," said Baron, a partner in the D.C. office of the Boston firm of Foley, Hoag & Eliot. "And I heard that [committee Minority Chief Counsel] Mike Davidson needed a deputy, so I called him up."
Instead, it turned out that ranking minority member John Glenn (D-Ohio) wanted to switch lawyers. Davidson, a former Senate legal counsel, knew lots about procedure, but the investigation had quickly become a fiercely partisan affair, and he had little adversarial experience. Baron, however, was a veteran trial lawyer.
"Next thing I know, I was being interviewed for chief counsel," Baron said.
Baron was hired in late February amid reports the Democrats' investigation was in disarray, but Glenn has said that he always intended to hire a courtroom slugger once public hearings began. He just didn't know the brawl was going to start so early.
Baron regards himself as a "good aggressive questioner" who knows "how to boil down a complex set of facts to their essentials, and how to drive them home," he said. "I don't do capillaries; I go for the jugular."
At first glance, Baron seems an unlikely brawler. He was born and raised in Baltimore and, after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1967, got his first job as an assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore.
He once had his own law firm in Baltimore, still lives in Baltimore, is a "rabid" Orioles fan, and even if someone knew nothing of his origins, his accent would give him away.
Yet, he's been working in Washington "for quite a long time now," he said, and he has plenty of experience with government and with big investigations. Last year he won two dismissals defending House Minority Whip David E. Bonior (D-Mich.) in a pair of ethics cases. He also arranged for former representative Joseph P. Kolter (D-Pa.), to plead guilty to a single conspiracy count in a five-count indictment in the House Post Office scandal.
But he made his reputation on Capitol Hill in 1987 when he served as special counsel in impeachment proceedings against federal Judges Walter L. Nixon Jr. and Alcee L. Hastings, making the cases in the House and trying them in the Senate over two years until both were impeached.
Following the impeachments, Baron went back to private practice, but in 1991 the governor of Rhode Island made inquiries on the Hill about someone who could do "a complex and politically sensitive investigation" of the state's failed credit union system.
"My name came up," Baron said, and for about 15 months he commuted back and forth to Providence, producing a massive report and conducting televised public hearings.
Two years later, he handled an even more sensitive case for Maryland's Anne Arundel County: an investigation of sexual misconduct by teachers in the county's high schools. Baron issued a scathing report documenting "general failure at all levels of school administration consistently to recognize, report, prevent or thwart the behavior of the child abuser." The school superintendent resigned.
Baron has always been a Democrat, partly because Maryland, "and Baltimore in particular, are so Democratic that if you want to have any impact, you have to be able to vote in primaries," he explained. He contributes sporadically to candidates he knows, usually through his stints on Capitol Hill. He gave Bonior's campaign $500 last year.
With Baron, the job at hand is never personal. This is partly why he gets along so well with Michael J. Madigan, his Republican counterpart on the Governmental Affairs Committee. "We're probably pretty similar," Madigan said. "I'm probably more intense, he's more laid back. But he's very good, and I would rather have somebody very good to deal with."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company