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Will Obama's Camp Have Room for Lawyers Who Backed Clinton?Just how far those in Hillary Clinton's lawyer fan base will be able to wriggle into Barack Obama's inner circle -- and possible administration -- is an open question. Right now, the Obama campaign insists there's room for everyone, but Obama insiders agree that the tent definitely won't be big enough for some Clinton supporters. Moreover, unity on the campaign trail is one thing, but giving Clintonites offices in the executive branch is quite another.
Legal Times2008-06-13 12:00:00 AM
Hillary Clinton's lawyer fan base is now fertile ground for Barack Obama. But just how far the Clintonites will be able to wriggle into Obama's inner circle -- and possible administration -- is an open question.
Right now, the Obama campaign insists there's room for everyone.
"You can never have too much talent. You can never have too much intelligence. You can never have too many people with experience as part of the team," says Covington & Burling partner Eric Holder Jr., who has been a close adviser to Obama and a co-chairman of the Illinois senator's presidential campaign. (Last week, Holder was tasked with helping to lead the search for Obama's vice presidential candidate.)
And it doesn't hurt that Clinton's friends in the legal community have been faithful fund-raisers -- and her take from them would be difficult for Obama's -- or any -- campaign to ignore. Since the beginning of her presidential bid, Clinton has raised $16.8 million from lawyers and law firms, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That nearly matches the $17.3 million Obama has raised from lawyers.
Still, political veterans say that hard feelings are unavoidable, especially in a race as fiercely contested as the one that played out between Clinton and Obama. "You're always going to have rookies on both sides who think the opposition is someone other than John McCain," says James Blanchard, a DLA Piper partner, former Michigan governor and co-chairman of Clinton's campaign in Michigan.
Obama insiders agree that the tent definitely won't be big enough for some. Vocal Clinton surrogate and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe partner Lanny Davis, for one, hasn't won many friends in the Obama camp. Nonetheless, party unity is indisputably the immediate goal, Blanchard says: "The bottom line is these two candidates need each other. They need each other very much."
TEAM OF RIVALS?
Unity on the campaign trail is one thing. But giving Clintonites offices in the executive branch is quite another.
On the stump, Obama has cited Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, "Team of Rivals," as one of his favorites. The chronicle of Abraham Lincoln's presidency details Lincoln's decision to allocate Cabinet positions to his political opponents.
But the first round of speculation about possible Obama appointments has centered on his friends. Holder, for instance, has been bandied about as a possible attorney general should Obama win. But the Washington, D.C., litigator -- and former deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton -- rejects the idea. "That ain't gonna happen," Holder says bluntly, sounding a touch exasperated at being asked, yet again, if he would take the AG spot.
But there are plenty of other spots for a trusted confidant in an administration. Holder's role as a member of the vice presidential advisory team may be a clue that he's on the fast track to a slot inside the White House. Other members of the VP selection team in past campaigns have landed plum roles: President George W. Bush, for example, initially chose Vice President Dick Cheney to help find his running mate, and Warren Christopher led Bill Clinton's VP search -- and then served as secretary of state. (In an e-mail, Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said, "Discussions about what an Obama administration would specifically look like are more than premature.")
If Holder's not interested in becoming attorney general, there is another ex-deputy attorney general who might say yes. Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr partner Jamie Gorelick was chief legal policy adviser during Hillary Clinton's presidential bid and, like Holder, served as the Justice Department's No. 2 under Bill Clinton.
When asked if she would be willing to head Justice, Gorelick says, "I am not as anxious to get back into government as others might be," but adds, "I clearly would like to help any Democratic president."
Despite her ties to the Clintons, Gorelick says she "will be in with Obama with both feet." She says she has had conversations with the Obama campaign and that she expects Obama will "call upon the many talents in the Democratic Party" to help him get elected.
The pundits have, of course, been abuzz with the possibility that Obama will ask Hillary Clinton to join his ticket. And many Clinton supporters are pushing the idea. Most vocal among them: Lanny Davis, who heads the Hillary for VP '08 Committee.
Davis might not be the best ambassador, according to Obama insiders. Throughout the primaries, the outspoken Davis has taken frequent jabs at Obama through the media. One senior-level lawyer close to the Obama campaign says when it comes to recruiting Clinton supporters, "you can rule Lanny Davis out right off the bat. That ain't happening. Not in a million years."
Davis, who has been plugging the VP idea on nearly every cable news channel, did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment.
TALKING TO FRIENDS
Davis may be the exception. "I would assume that there's room for anyone who has something to contribute," says Arnold & Porter partner Robert Litt, who has been actively involved in Obama's run. And Democratic strategist Chris Lehane says, "The basic math is you want to add people to your campaign." Lehane, who advised Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry, previously supported Hillary Clinton but says he, too, is on board with Obama. Lehane adds that one way to help merge the two camps is to tap into "pre-existing friendships between staffers" on each side.
Weldon Latham, a senior partner at Davis Wright Tremaine, says he's been doing exactly that. Latham was a national co-chairman of Clinton's campaign but says he has "a lot of friends" involved with Obama's bid and that they "talk all the time."
Dozens of other lawyers may not have donated time to the Clinton campaign, but they certainly had no trouble donating funds.
Molly Meegan, a counsel at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Washington, D.C., donated $1,000 to Clinton in February. She certainly wasn't alone: Lawyers and staff at Skadden gave nearly $234,000 to Clinton, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But Meegan now says she supports Obama and plans to donate to him.
One partner at a top New York-based firm isn't ready to jump to Obama. He gave more than $1,000 to Clinton but is now considering voting for John McCain. "I think this is going to be a tough decision for a lot of people," he says.
And even the most seasoned members of Clinton's lawyer army acknowledge that leaving behind the bitterness of the primary contest won't be easy.
Says former Michigan Gov. Blanchard: "There are going to be some wounds."