President Carter yesterday reached into the highest ranks of the Washington establishment he once campaigned against, naming attorney Lloyd Cutler as his new White House counsel.
Cutler, a member of one of Washington's largest and most prominent law firms, Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, will succeed Robert J. Lipshutz, a Georgian long close to Carter who resigned last week.
Cutler's appointment marks the second time in a month that the president has reached out to add an establishment figure to a White House staff heavily dominated by a closeknit circle of Georgians. The other appointment came from communications power structure as he picked Hedley Donovan, former Time Inc. editor in chief, as his senior White House adviser.
The appointment of Cutler reaches to the core of what a number of Carter's friends and well-wishers have felt was one of the major shortcomings of his presidency -- a lack of contact with, and understanding of, the Washington establishment. Even Carter's own close friend and fellow Georgian, outgoing Attorney General Griffin Bell, has been critical of this breach between the Carter White House and the Washington establishment.
In choosing Cutler, the president has brought into his inner White House circle the quintessential Washington establishment man.
Cutler, 62, is a Democrat, and was one of the first of the prominent Washington lawyers to be identified with the antiwar movement in the early 1970s. Most recently, he has been advising Carter on how to get the SALT II pact approved.
But his corporate clients and a reputation as one of the city's foremost lawyer-lobbyists have won Cutler much disfavor among most liberal and consumer groups. His critics in past battles have included Ralph Nader, Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis.), and Rep. Lionel Van Deerlin (D.-Calif.).
One associate of Cutler described him as "a liberal in the classic sense -- a liberal thinker in every way." His defense of the nation's large corporations -- often against consumer groups and antitrust actions -- reflects only Cutler's passion "for solving problems," not any particular affinity for those interests, this associate said.
During the 1960s, Cutler represented the automobile industry in the long fight over added safety features. He used his close relationships with legislators, regulators, and Johnson administration officials to argue the industry's position.
"As a big-business lobbyist, Cutler has been the symbol of anticonsumerism in Washington," said Nader, who has been on opposite sides with Cutler on issues from automobile safety to pharmaceuticals. "Cutler's appointment is another step towards the takeover of the White House by corporate representatives."
In his most recent governmental positions, Cutler's roles have put him into international circles, reflecting what one colleague saw as Cutler's own shift of orientation and interest.
In addition to his recent role in the SALT debate, he was the U.S. negotiator from 1977 to 1979 in a legalistic quibble with Canada over territorial waters boundaries. He also has gotten behind an effort to develop synthetic fuels as rapidly as possible.
Cutler also has championed giving the president veto power over most government regulatory agency decisions, a view he enunciated at the American Bar Association meeting this week in Dallas. He was opposed on the issue by some liberals who saw it as an overconcentration of power in the hands of the president.
Despite over 30 years serving the government on various boards and commissions, this appointment marks the first time Cutler will actually be part of the inner circle of power. He came close, in 1965, when Lyndon Johnson was set to name him under-secretary of commerce. When press reports predicted the appointment, however, Johnson reconsidered the choice.