The White House counsel's office spent much of the last eight years fighting off Kenneth W. Starr, Whitewater, the travel office imbroglio and campaign-finance scandals.
But, in one of the ironies that accompanied the transfer of power from the Clinton to Bush administrations, the very people who fought the Clinton lawyers all those years now find themselves occupying their opponents' offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Among them:
* A lawyer who wrote part of the Starr Report and handled the investigation into the death of Clinton White House counsel Vincent Foster.
* A lawyer for the Senate Whitewater investigation.
* A lawyer who testified to Congress in defense of independent counsel Starr's tactics and had a prominent role defending Bush in the Florida recount.
* A lawyer who was an outspoken television commentator in defense of Starr during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
* Others who fought for Bush in Florida and earlier worked for Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
Not that Bush's new lawyers are dwelling in the past. Mostly in their thirties, they come from a small group of elite young lawyers in Washington eager to leave its stamp on the new administration. They are highly credentialed, ideologically conservative and, friends and associates say, likely to exert influence not just over legal technicalities but over judicial selections and administration policy.
"People do vote with their feet, and this is a vote by these young people," said C. Boyden Gray, the elder President George Bush's counsel. "It says the real legal policy energy may well be in the White House" when it comes to selection of judges and justices and policymaking -- not in the Justice Department under attorney general nominee John D. Ashcroft.
With the exception of foreign affairs, Bush has created an arrangement in which White House advisers are poised to dominate the Cabinet departments. In the legal area, Gray said, the counsel's office may have "cornered the market" in talent. "They might have the upper hand," he said.
The White House press office declined to allow any of the lawyers to be interviewed. Instead, the press office allowed a telephone interview with White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, 45, the man who hired the young lawyers.
"Clearly, all of us are making sacrifices," Gonzales said. "This is a unique opportunity. They just haven't had the opportunity to work in the White House." As for their experience fighting the previous White House, Gonzales said, "These folks have seen some of the mistakes of the past, and that's a great strength to have."
Gonzales said his team has broad ambitions. "Many of them have a very strong interest in various areas of policy," he said. "That's good. I hope we get to participate. But we are lawyers for the president, and that will always be our primary importance."
Veterans of the Clinton counsel's office were displeased to learn that Clinton's antagonists are now occupying the offices once used to defend Clinton. "I'm surprised by the influence" of Starr, said Abner J. Mikva, a former Clinton counsel. "It's baggage, for one, and I'm not sure it's the greatest credential for legal prowess."
The influx of talent into the Bush White House is a Republican Camelot of sorts, a chance for a new generation of conservative intellectuals to put their theories into practice. In addition to the former Supreme Court clerks in the counsel's office -- Timothy Flanigan (Warren Burger), Brett Kavanaugh (Anthony M. Kennedy), Helgi Walker (Thomas), Courtney Simmons Elwood (Rehnquist), Noel Francisco (Scalia) and Bradford Berenson (Kennedy) -- at least two other former clerks are working in nonlegal jobs elsewhere in the White House. Many of them are members of the Federalist Society, a haven for intellectual movement conservatives.
This is the first shot at governing for a group that identified themselves as conservatives in college and law school in the 1980s. "If there's a pedigree that's interesting, a lot of them come from clerkships with judges and justices appointed in the Reagan and Bush administrations," said George Terwilliger III, a veteran of the Justice department of Bush's father.
Gonzales is "basically creating one of the best law firms in Washington in the White House counsel's office," said Robert Giuffra, a lawyer and friend of several of the president's new lawyers. Such recruits would be making $500,000 at a private firm, instead of the $100,000 that has been standard for counsel jobs at the White House.
Why? For an elite band of young conservative lawyers in Washington, working for a GOP administration after eight years in the wilderness is something of a cause. They've "not had too much opportunity to serve in government," said Miguel Estrada, a Washington lawyer who is friendly with the White House lawyers.
Even ideological opponents admire the talent. Gary Feinerman, who attended Yale with Berenson and Kavanaugh and is a close friend of Kavanaugh, with whom he clerked for Kennedy, said he has "a great deal of respect" for both men. "I obviously wish they weren't in the White House," said Feinerman, a supporter of former vice president Al Gore.
What alarms opponents most is the lawyers' potential say in the selection of federal judges -- particularly the Supreme Court. Their influence will be increased by Gonzales (himself viewed as a prospect for the Supreme Court) and associate counsel Stuart Bowen, both of whom are close to Bush and worked for him in Texas. "I certainly expect we'll play an integral role" in judge selection, Gonzales said, calling it a "collaborative effort" with the Justice Department.
The most senior of the White House Washington lawyers is Timothy Flanigan, a former partner of the White & Case firm who will be Gonzales's deputy. At 47, Flanigan, who is Mormon, has 14 children, friends say, and lives on a farm in Virginia. In the first Bush administration, he was assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, responsible for constitutional questions.
More recently, Flanigan worked on Bush's recount effort in Florida. Flanigan, a longtime foe of judicial activism, testified before a House subcommittee in 1999 about the independent counsel law. Although he opposed the law, he said Starr "will be remembered as an independent counsel who discharged his office in a moderate and appropriate fashion." He called Starr's work "legitimate exercises of the prosecutorial role."
Of the six associate counsels, Kavanaugh had the most direct role in the high-profile disputes of the Clinton years. Kavanaugh, who worked at Starr's Kirkland and Ellis firm, wrote in defense of Elian Gonzalez's Miami relatives seeking to permit the child to apply for asylum. Kavanaugh, now 35, led Starr's investigation into the death of Foster (debunking conspiracy theories surrounding it) and argued unsuccessfully before the Supreme Court that Foster's lawyer-client privilege ended at death. He also wrote parts of the Starr report.
Kavanaugh is well-liked by ideological friends and foes and is active in his Catholic church. The son of a cosmetics lobbyist and a Maryland state judge, Kavanaugh is known for his work ethic -- staying at the office until three or four in the morning.
Best known of the new associate counsels is Bradford Berenson, who became a pundit during the Lewinsky and Florida controversies. He suggested that Clinton may have "committed a very serious felony" if he sought to conceal his gifts to Lewinsky, and he called the case against the president "a slam-dunk perjury case." Berenson, a well-known white-collar criminal lawyer, is married with two children, friends say, the only associate counsel with children other than Bowen.
H. Christopher Bartolomucci was a partner at the firm Hogan & Hartson for only nine days before he joined the counsel's office. He worked as a lawyer for the Senate Whitewater investigation, but his legal background is eclectic; he represented Playboy in a case involving limitations on sexually explicit programming. Bartolomucci, 34, has degrees from Dartmouth and Harvard Law School.
Helgi Walker's background is with the Federal Communications Commission, although she worked as part of Bush's legal team in Florida and had earlier stints with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). The other associate, Courtney Simmons Elwood, is a Yale law school graduate. Elwood, 32, represented Terry Lenzner, a private investigator hired by Clinton, and represented Nolanda Hill, business partner of the late commerce secretary Ronald H. Brown, in a case related to the Democrats' campaign finance troubles.
Completing Bush's legal team as assistant counsel are Noel Francisco, 31, and Rachel Brand, 27, both of the small firm Cooper Carvin & Rosenthal. Brand, of Harvard Law School and Elizabeth Dole's presidential campaign, said in an interview last year with Legal Times that she chose the small firm in part because of what the publication called "the firm's well-known conservative ideology."