Two decades later, the paths of Kavanaugh and Stier crossed again, and once more, the matter involved alleged sexual misconduct.
By this time, Kavanaugh had been nominated to the Supreme Court and Stier was the president and chief executive of the Washington-based Partnership for Public Service. Stier wanted to tell the FBI anonymously that he recalled having seen “Kavanaugh with his pants down” at a “drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student,” the New York Times reported online Saturday. The student declined to be interviewed, and friends said she doesn’t recall the event, according to an updated version of the Times story.
As a result, Stier finds himself in the middle of a partisan brawl at the very time he has stressed that nonpartisanship is crucial to fixing what is broken in Washington. He has been attacked and supported on social media. On the basis of the Stier account and related revelations, some Democrats called for Kavanaugh’s impeachment, or at least for a new investigation. President Trump has tweeted, “What’s happening to Justice Kavanaugh is a disgrace.”
Stier, 53, a registered Democrat who has worked for members of both political parties, declined to comment. He may be best known for being portrayed heroically as an earnest do-gooder seeking to fix government in a recent best-selling book, “The Fifth Risk,” by Michael Lewis. Stier might have been “the American with the greatest understanding of how the US government worked,” Lewis wrote.
As soon as Stier’s role in the Kavanaugh matter was revealed, however, some Republicans latched on to his having worked for Clinton, saying that it signals he may have had political motivations when he offered the FBI information about Kavanaugh’s days at Yale.
“It is very relevant to potential motivation and thus newsworthy that Max Stier just happened to be a defense attorney during the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton when Brett Kavanaugh was lead prosecutor,” said Mike Davis, who was the chief counsel to then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) during the Kavanaugh confirmation fight. “It showed Max Stier may have a political ax to grind.”
But another Clinton impeachment lawyer, David Kendall, who worked closely on the case with Stier as well as serving with him at the Washington firm of Williams & Connolly, said Stier’s work should not be cast as a partisan mission.
“Lawyers represent clients,” Kendall said. “In this case, Max was on the side of the president, Brett was on the side of the independent counsel. I don’t think taking opposing positions in formal litigations necessarily means there is an any animus between the opposing counsel.”
Stier had hoped that the FBI would interview witnesses and report to Congress while he remained anonymous, according to associates.
“He was very, very hesitant to come forward,” said Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), who talked with Stier about the matter in early autumn 2018 and passed his name to the FBI. “Because he was concerned about exactly what is happening now. He was concerned that it would harm the mission of his organization, that he would be mischaracterized as being politically motivated.”
The paths of Stier and Kavanaugh have crossed several times. Stier, who was born in California, interned in the office of Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) before attending Yale, where he and Kavanaugh were classmates.
It was then, during the 1983-1984 academic year, that Stier allegedly witnessed the sexual misconduct described mainly in two paragraphs of “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh,” the book published Tuesday by two New York Times reporters.
As Stier attended law school at Stanford, Kavanaugh was earning his law degree at Yale. Stier and Kavanaugh continued to follow similar paths as both clerked for justices of the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh clerked for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in the 1993-1994 term. Stier clerked for Justice David Souter in the following term. (Both justices were nominated by Republican presidents).
Then they both worked for high-powered Washington law firms: Kavanaugh went to work for Kirkland & Ellis, and Stier joined Williams & Connolly.
Faceoff over Clinton
Their paths soon intersected again. Kavanaugh joined the office of the independent counsel, overseen by Starr, who was investigating a number of matters involving President Clinton. Stier, meanwhile, was asked by Kendall, a colleague at Williams & Connolly, to help defend Clinton.
A review of legal records shows that Stier and Kavanaugh were on opposing sides in a number of Clinton-related cases. In 1998, they faced off on the question of whether the independent counsel could compel the testimony of deputy White House counsel Bruce Lindsey. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled for Kavanaugh’s side, saying the White House could not assert attorney-client privilege if the president’s lawyer had information related to possible criminal violations.
Shortly thereafter, Kavanaugh wrote a memo outlining questions that the independent counsel should ask Clinton, including whether the president thought the intern Monica Lewinsky was lying when she described her sexual activities with Clinton.
Kavanaugh then was the primary author of the section of Starr’s report on possible grounds for impeaching Clinton. The House voted to impeach Clinton, and the Senate convened to vote on whether to convict the president.
Stier was part of the Clinton defense team that produced a memorandum urging the Senate not to remove the president — a view that prevailed in the Senate.
Stier went on to work as a lawyer in the Clinton administration, but his experience watching the impeachment battle — and other partisan fights — led him to think about developing nonpartisan solutions for making government work better.
As it happened, Stier met a financier named Sam Heyman, a Republican former assistant U.S. attorney who wanted to back a group dedicated to promoting public service. Heyman provided $25 million in 2001 to fund the Partnership for Public Service and $20 million later. Stier was put in charge of the operation, which has grown to a full-time staff of 100 and dozens of interns.
The Partnership has a singular goal: To make the federal government more effective and efficient by attracting and engaging the best workforce possible. At the core are managers who are good leaders. When government fails, the group’s motto goes, it is because managers were not doing their jobs.
Besides its research team devoted to finding trends in government and its leadership seminars for managers, the group is best known for tworecognition programs for federal employees. One is the annual awards known as the Sammies, which honor federal employees — nominated by their peers and supervisors — who have led the way in their fields.
The other is the annual Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings, which rate federal agencies from Cabinet level to tiny offices. The results, released in December, are closely watched by managers throughout the government.
(The group also works with The Washington Post to publish a database of how many key positions are filled in the Trump administration.)
A wound reopened
John Palguta, who was the Partnership’s vice president for policy for 14 years, said Stier set the nonpartisan tone. “If he would hear folks talking about anything that was partisan, he would put a stop to it,” Palguta said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Stier is “very unpretentious, unassuming, matter-of-fact, dedicated to public service but not to partisan politics.”
Stier’s wife, D.C. Superior Court Associate Judge Florence Y. Pan, who had clerked for judges appointed by Republicans, was nominated in 2016 by President Barack Obama to be a U.S. district judge for the District of Columbia. Her nomination was unanimously advanced from the Senate Judiciary Committee but, like a number of those put forward in the last year of Obama’s presidency, Pan’s nomination languished in the Republican-controlled Senate and was never put to a vote. With the election of President Trump, she was not renominated.
Trump, meanwhile, nominated Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, prompting a summerlong fight between Democrats and Republicans after allegations surfaced that he had sexually assaulted a woman named Christine Blasey Ford at a home when he attended Georgetown Preparatory School. Kavanaugh denied the allegation.
Stier got in touch with Coons. The senator sat on the Judiciary Committee and had met Stier at one of the Partnership’s awards ceremonies. In the first of at least two conversations, Stier “was gravely concerned about coming forward” with his recollection about the dorm incident involving Kavanaugh because of concern it might taint the Partnership as partisan, Coons said, and he did not come forward.
“He did not think the risk was worth it,” Coons said in an interview. But after Blasey Ford testified that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her — and her testimony was questioned by Republicans — Stier again telephoned Coons.
With the FBI set to spend a week investigating other claims against Kavanaugh, Stier agreed to let Coons write to the bureau and urge that investigators speak with Stier about his information. Coons asked of FBI Director Christopher A. Wray in an Oct. 2 letter that an “appropriate follow up” be made with Stier.
But Stier was never interviewed by the FBI — a revelation from the new book that infuriated multiple Democratic senators, who complained about the narrow scope of the background investigation. That concern festered and the wound was reopened with Stier’s account.
“What we were looking for was an honest, professional investigation,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the second-ranking Senate Democrat. “That didn’t happen.”
Julie Tate contributed to this report.