Theodore B. Olson, whose nomination to be solicitor general comes up again today before the Senate Judiciary Committee, has a distinguished legal re{acute}sume{acute}, a remarkable biography as a participant in numerous historic events over the last two decades and a problem with Senate Democrats who question his candor.

Olson has done legal work for Ronald Reagan, Monica Lewinsky and Jonathan Pollard, an American who spied for Israel. He has argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court, and won several historic ones, most notably last year's Bush v. Gore.

Olson, 60, would bring to the job far more of a history of political activism than the traditional candidate for solicitor general. He has been not only an architect of the conservative legal movement but a significant political player as well, advising Paula Jones's legal team when she sued President Bill Clinton for sexual harassment, and defending his friend Kenneth W. Starr during the Whitewater investigation.

Conservatives love Ted Olson, as they have demonstrated in rallying around his nomination to be the government's top lawyer before the Supreme Court. Many liberals regard him with suspicion. Olson's nomination was held up at the Judiciary Committee last week, after Democrats expressed concern that the nominee was less than candid in testimony about his role with the American Spectator magazine and its "Arkansas Project," a $2.3 million effort to report on Bill and Hillary Clinton that was funded by Richard Mellon Scaife, a conservative philanthropist.

Some Olson critics see a similarity between the latest questions about the accuracy and completeness of Olson's testimony and earlier disputes about his candor. Fifteen years ago, Justice Department lawyers found "significant evidence" that Olson had given carefully worded testimony to Congress that "was knowingly false." An independent counsel cleared him of criminal wrongdoing in that episode.

Olson's law partner Douglas Cox dismissed the current complaints as "word games," and conservative supporters say Democrats' real reason for opposing Olson is that they disagree with his conservative views and activities.

Olson and his wife, Barbara, have made no secret of their political predilections. Barbara Olson worked for House Republicans investigating Clinton, became a prominent anti-Clinton television commentator and wrote a gleefully hostile bestseller about Hillary Clinton, "Hell to Pay."

Olson himself wrote a long article for American Spectator denouncing Janet Reno's Justice Department as politically corrupt, and co-authored an article for the magazine enumerating, with sarcasm, the federal and Arkansas laws the Clintons might have violated. When R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., the Spectator's combative editor, got married in 1998, Olson was his best man.

And yet, Laurence H. Tribe, the liberal Democrat and Harvard law professor who argued against Olson in the first round of the Supreme Court election dispute in November, has written a letter to senators warmly endorsing Olson's nomination. "Ted Olson will perform his role [as solicitor general] with honor, and with distinction," Tribe wrote. Cass Sunstein, a liberal law professor at the University of Chicago who worked under Olson in the 1980s, called him "a fair-minded and independent-thinking person . . . not an ideologue by any means." Other Democrats who have worked with Olson also sing his praises.

Olson entered the public arena in the early months of Reagan's presidency, when he provided the legal reasoning for Reagan's decision to fire the nation's air traffic controllers, an unexpected, forceful display of leadership that set the tone of the new administration. At the time Olson was assistant attorney general for the office of legal counsel, the branch of the Justice Department sometimes described as the president's law firm.

Olson came to that position as a 40-year-old prote{acute}ge{acute} of William French Smith, with whom he had worked in the Los Angeles law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Smith, Reagan's first attorney general, brought two bright young lawyers to Washington in 1981: Olson and Starr, who served as counselor to the attorney general.

Twenty years later, Olson was at the center of one of the great political dramas of American history, arguing twice before the Supreme Court late last year on behalf of the Bush campaign. His success before the court impressed legal colleagues -- "If you were giving out . . . prizes, Olson would win one," said Lloyd Cutler, the prominent Washington lawyer and former counsel to presidents Jimmy Carter and Clinton. His victory in Bush v. Gore made Olson a hero among Republicans, and a natural candidate to be President Bush's solicitor general.

Olson has often been involved in legal issues and cases of special interest to conservatives. He argued that the Virginia Military Institute should be permitted to remain an all-male school, a position the Supreme Court rejected. Olson convinced a federal appeals court that the University of Texas's affirmative action policy violated the Constitution. He has been active in the Federalist Society, the Washington Legal Foundation and the Center for Individual Rights, which have all helped articulate the conservative legal philosophy.

Conservatives reject any suggestion that Olson is too ideological and too political to be solicitor general. "That is utter and complete nonsense," said Charles Fried, solicitor general in the Reagan administration. Fried said Olson was no more political than solicitors general Thurgood Marshall, the longtime NAACP general counsel, or Archibald Cox, a Harvard professor and John F. Kennedy supporter.

Lincoln Caplan of Yale Law School, a liberal and author of a book on solicitors general, "The Tenth Justice," said he was surprised that senators have not questioned Olson about the conclusion of the independent counsel who investigated him in the 1980s that he had given "disingenuous and misleading" testimony to Congress in a contentious hearing involving the Environmental Protection Agency. The independent counsel, Alexia Morrison, decided not to prosecute Olson, saying his "less than forthcoming" testimony was "literally true," and not provably a violation of law.

Caplan described this conclusion as "significant for a solicitor general candidate" because "integrity is essential to the office," and Morrison's conclusions were "not an exoneration [but] quite a damning conclusion."

Olson was criticized by others in that same episode. Lawyers in the Justice Department's public integrity section who investigated his testimony used strong language to characterize their conclusions: "The available evidence strongly suggests that Olson's testimony is false"; "We think it is probable that Olson's testimony, literally and in context, was false"; "Olson tailored a narrow response calculated to be literally true yet still evade the committee's purpose"; "there is significant evidence that Olson's testimony in this area was knowingly false."

The dispute centered on efforts to assert executive privilege to withhold EPA documents from Congress. Olson wrote a memorandum on that subject that concluded with the statement that Ann M. Burford (then Anne Gorsuch), the EPA administrator, endorsed the view that executive privilege should be invoked to prevent Congress from getting certain documents.

"I had not been consulted by him, much less concurred," Burford said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Describing herself as a strong supporter of Bush, Burford said she nevertheless had strong negative feelings about Olson. "He out-and-out lied to me," she said.

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee joined in the criticism of Olson in that episode, concluding that "regrettably, the president was ill-advised by Assistant Attorney General Olson" on the law of executive privilege.

The core of the Democrats' claim that Olson was misleading in his confirmation testimony centers on his involvement with the Spectator, which hired him as a lawyer in 1994 and put him on the board two years later.

When asked about his involvement in the Arkansas Project on April 5, Olson replied: "It has been alleged that I was somehow involved in that so-called project. I was not involved in the project in its origin or its management."

Later, in what Democrats consider to be a more problematic assertion, Olson wrote to the committee that his legal work for the Spectator "was not for the purpose of conducting or assisting in the conduct of investigations of the Clintons."

Olson's partner, Cox, has said that Olson's legal work included the assessment of the Clintons' potential legal exposure. An article that Olson acknowledged he has co-authored on that subject ran in the American Spectator's February 1994 issue.

Olson has repeatedly denied that he knew anything about Scaife's funding of the project until 1997, when a controversy arose inside the Spectator over whether the project's money was being spent appropriately. Arkansas Project accounting records show payments to Olson's law firm totaling $14,341.45 during 1994 alone, but Olson and Tyrrell, the Spectator's editor-in-chief, have both said there was no way Olson's law firm could have known what account the Spectator was drawing on to pay the firm.

David Brock, a former investigative reporter for the Spectator, has described Olson participating directly in discussions of Arkansas Project stories. Tyrrell countered that Brock was not a part of the project and "the record on that is indisputable." Yesterday, Brock produced Arkansas Project expense records showing at least 19 payments to him for travel costs, books and periodicals and phone calls.

One potential source of information that might clarify Olson's relationship with the Arkansas Project is the report written by Michael Shaheen in 1999, based on his investigation into whether lawyers working for Starr gave improper assistance to anti-Clinton witness David Hale, perhaps using money from the Arkansas Project. Shaheen, a former Justice Department official, concluded that there was no wrongdoing by Starr's staff. In the course of his inquiry, he interviewed many Arkansas Project participants, mostly before a special grand jury. More than one of them refused to testify, invoking the constitutional right not to incriminate oneself.

Because the Shaheen report is based on grand jury testimony, it is covered by federal rules requiring that it be kept secret. Democrats on the Senate committee have expressed interest in seeing it in hopes it contains information about Olson. A Democratic aide was shown a heavily redacted portion of the report, sources said.

According to knowledgeable sources, Cox, on Olson's behalf, has asked Robert W. Ray, Starr's successor as independent counsel, whether he could certify that the Shaheen report contains no information linking Olson to the Arkansas Project beyond Olson's own testimony that he learned about the project -- but not who funded it before 1997 -- from his service on the American Spectator foundation's board. Ray decided that it would not be proper to respond to Cox's request, the sources said.

Theodore Olson, during his confirmation hearing to be solicitor general.