Monday, August 27, 2007

Let This Cup Pass From My Lips..

Recycled form last month, Jess Bravin at the Wall Street Journal offers a shrewd account of how the job of acting attorney general may be, for Paul Clement, a poisoned chalice (link):

Over the past six years, Mr. Clement, 40 years old, has become one of the conservative legal movement's brightest stars. He has been praised by Republicans and Democrats for his skill as he defended some of the Bush administration's toughest positions. Some predict he may follow the path of previous solicitors general, including Robert Jackson and Thurgood Marshall, to a seat on the Supreme Court.

Now [i.e., mid-July--ed.], however, the Justice Department controversies have thrown Mr. Clement a curve. As the highest-ranking Justice official not involved in the firings, he is charged with overseeing the department's investigations into the matter. The solicitor general's regular job is pondering the great questions of law and, dressed in a traditional morning coat, arguing on the government's behalf before the Supreme Court. It is only on rare occasions the solicitor general is dragged directly into the political fray, becoming acting attorney general when his superiors are disqualified from exercising their authority.

Mr. Gonzales remains under fire, and the deputy attorney general has tendered his resignation. This could be a defining moment for Mr. Clement, who may be torn between Capitol Hill demands for disclosure of internal deliberations and the White House claim that executive privilege shields its actions from congressional review.

How Mr. Clement navigates those shoals could determine whether he emerges as a replacement should Mr. Gonzales depart -- and how far his judicial ambitions will take him. Mr. Clement's supporters say partisanship won't cloud his judgment. As solicitor general, he sometimes has had to defend laws unpopular with Republicans, such as the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance act. The law's co-sponsor, Sen. Russell Feingold (D., Wis.), called Mr. Clement's performance "superb."

"He's a just-the-facts, just-the-law kind of guy," says former Deputy Attorney General James Comey, a Republican who in recent congressional testimony raised questions about Mr. Gonzales's judgment. "If he found himself as acting attorney general, he would do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may."...

Like other lawyers who gained prominence in the Bush administration , Mr. Clement belonged to the right-leaning Federalist Society and held clerkships under two pugnacious conservatives, U.S. Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In 2000, he joined the phalanx of conservative lawyers who fought in the legal dispute that made George W. Bush president. After the election, Solicitor General Theodore Olson selected Mr. Clement as his deputy.`...

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