We previously wrote about President Bush’s selection of Fred Fielding as his new White House counsel. Our coverage was based on a pre-announcement scoop by Time, not an actual announcement from the White House.
Just to close the loop on this, the rumor was correct: Fielding’s selection is now official. Here’s the (predictably bland) White House press release.
From the New York Times:
Mr. Fielding’s agreement to take the job surprised some of his closest friends. The friends said last week, when his name surfaced as a contender for the position, that they would be surprised if he would give up a successful corporate practice for another stint of what promises to be heavy partisan battle at age 67.
Mr. Fielding was deputy counsel to President Richard M. Nixon under John W. Dean III and was White House counsel for the first five years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
Further discussion, plus speculation about the next Deputy White House Counsel, after the jump.
Although certainly an “elder statesman” type, Fielding isn’t the scrappy street fighter that some were expecting:
Mr. Fielding has a nuanced record on executive privilege and partisan confrontation. Associates say he is as likely to head for the negotiating table as to the wrestling mat.
The Washington Post sounds similar notes:
Smooth and soft-spoken yet battle-hardened, Fielding is considered a Republican “wise man” who Bush aides believe will be able to negotiate compromise without surrendering on the most important priorities.
“It sends the perfect signal that we are serious about the president’s position and the principles he has articulated but we’re also going to be reasonable and work together to get some of these issues resolved,” said Helgi C. Walker, a former Bush White House associate counsel who works with Fielding at his firm, Wiley Rein & Fielding….
The move to bring back a White House counsel from another era is reminiscent of President Bill Clinton’s decision in the midst of the Whitewater investigation in 1994 to hire Lloyd N. Cutler as his chief lawyer, many years after Cutler served in the same position under President Jimmy Carter. Like Clinton, Bush is reaching out to a pillar of the Washington establishment in hopes of tamping down political troubles.
Now that Fred Fielding has been picked, what next? Will he bring in some of his own people, perhaps colleagues from Wiley Rein,* to bolster the ranks of the White House counsel’s office?
Also, will Fielding bring in his own Deputy White House Counsel? Currently the position is held by William K. Kelley. But we hear that Bill Kelley, a law professor on leave from Notre Dame, plans to be back in South Bend by the fall (if not earlier). So who might replace him?
One name that we’ve heard floated — and no, we’re not just saying this because we’re obsessed with her (which we are) — is Rachel Brand, Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Legal Policy. She certainly has the credentials and intellectual heft for the job, as well as prior experience in the White House counsel’s office. And her youth and energy would nicely balance Fred Fielding’s age and gravitas.
But here’s one possible rub: Does the genial Rachel Brand have the proper personality for the post? Fred Fielding, while certainly a seasoned veteran of Washington politics, is more of a “good cop” than a bad one. Might he want to pick someone, well, mean ‘n nasty to serve as his chief lieutenant — someone to play the role of enforcer and hatchet man (or woman)?
If Fielding decides to go down this path, then the charming and pleasant Brand may not be the right fit. Someone like DOJ diva Alice Fisher, a tough-talking and hard-charging prosecutrix, might be just what the doctor ordered. But Fisher probably wouldn’t step down from her hugely influential position as Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division to become Deputy White House Counsel.
If you have any thoughts on this, we’d love to hear ‘em.
* Now that Fred Fielding is back in the White House, will Wiley Rein & Fielding keep its name, or will they have to print up new business cards? For some discussion of the issue, see here.
President Bush Selects Fred Fielding to Serve as Counsel to the President [White House]
Reagan Lawyer Ready to Return to White House [New York Times]
Bush Picks Reagan White House Counsel Fielding to Succeed Miers [Washington Post]
Law Blog Ethics Quiz: Will Wiley Rein Have to Drop Fielding? [WSJ Law Blog]