No one, absolutely no one, is going to slip uninspected into the D.C. Bar Association -- or any bar association for that matter -- at least not if the National Conference of Bar Examiners has anything to say about it.
Take the case of former Vice President Walter Mondale. Mondale, now a partner at the Washington office of Chicago's Winston & Strawn, recently applied for admission to the bar here. His application was forwarded to bar examiners in Chicago for review.
William H. Morris, director of administration for the organization, sent a letter to Reagan White House:
"Our conference has been asked to prepare the required character report for Walter Frederick Mondale, member of the bar of Minnesota, who is applying for admission to the bar of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Mr. Mondale has stated that he served as vice president of the United States from 1977 to 1981. May we have official verification for our report? Thank you for your assistance."
White House Counsel Fred F. Fielding drafted a cautious, lawyerly response on behalf of the new administration. It was important, he knew, to avoid committing the new administration to a firm position lest he later be called to testify.
"Dear Mr. Morris:
"Re Walter Frederick Mondale:
"In response to your correspondence dated March 30, 1981, please be advised that 'official verification' is difficult as the former tenant of our building -- Jan. 20, 1977-Jan. 20, 1981 -- did not leave behind a record upon which one could rely. However, upon information and belief I feel fairly confident that the data as to that particular applicant is accurate."
Morris said the background check was just "normal procedure" and was sent in seriousness, the Associated Press reported. "We do background investigations. This is what's called for on the application, and we follow up on the application," Morris said, adding that the procedure is followed for everyone, no exceptions, "whether we know them or not."
Indeed it is. Four days after dispatching his response for Mondale, Fielding says he got another letter from Morris:
"We would appreciate if you would verify that William Hedgcock Webster is director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation," the letter said. Webster, who had been a federal judge in his home state, Missouri, before coming to the FBI, isn't job-hunting, according to an FBI spokesman, he merely wanted to sign up with the local bar.
"I played that one straight," Fielding said. "I figured if they hadn't caught on the first time, well, I'd just run out of funnies."