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WASHINGTON — In the Justice Department, all roads lead to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General. The attorney general may lead the department, but the DAG runs it. Ever since current DAG Larry Thompson announced earlier this month that he would be leaving his post, Justice watchers have been busy handicapping his possible replacements. This much is sure: Whoever gets the job needs to be able to work closely with the AG and be a diplomat who can deal with Congress. Equally important will be the ability to resolve disputes between the different field offices, between Main Justice and the field offices, and of course, between Main Justice and the White House. Verizon Communications General Counsel William Barr, who served as DAG and attorney general during the first Bush administration, likens the department to an army, “where your main forces are out in the field. You need someone at headquarters who is responsive to the needs and perspectives of your front-line troops.” A number of factors complicate the search for a new No. 2 at the DOJ. Only 17 months are left in the current administration, which means a potentially short stint in the office, and one that will come with the headaches of managing the department under an election-year microscope. And although it’s not something people like to talk about on the record, diversity is a consideration, especially during an election cycle. The departure of Thompson, an African-American, will leave the DOJ’s upper echelon exclusively white and male. But most important in a Thompson successor, perhaps, are the skills and background that will minimize the learning curve. In the coming months, the department will be wrangling with contentious issues such as the extension of the USA Patriot Act and responding to widespread concerns regarding its policies and actions in the war on terrorism. Former Justice officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations say that Thompson’s ideal successor will come with a truckload of experience trying cases in the field. The new DAG should also be able to win the respect of the career attorneys at Main Justice. Attorney General John Ashcroft has the political savvy, they say. What he needs is someone who can do the heavy lifting on criminal justice issues. U.S. attorneys including James Comey of the Southern District of New York, Patrick Fitzgerald of the Northern District of Illinois, Paul McNulty of the Eastern District of Virginia, and Debra Yang of the Central District of California have all been mentioned for the job. “What these people share is experience in the department,” says Covington & Burling partner Eric Holder Jr., who was the DAG in Janet Reno’s Justice Department. “They would be familiar to the career people in the department and would be able to hit the ground running.” The deputy attorney general job carries almost as much prestige as it does responsibility. There is always lurking, too, the possibility that the DAG could succeed the AG, should Ashcroft decide to step down. Paul McNulty is on everyone’s short list. He’s known to be liked and respected by Ashcroft, as well as by his line prosecutors. And the Eastern District of Virginia has become the most important federal district in the war on terror. Two factors decrease the likelihood of McNulty assuming the job. For one, McNulty is a policy guy — not a prosecutor. “He’s very skilled, but the skills he possesses are similar to what John Ashcroft has,” says one former department official. In addition, after decades of working behind the scenes, McNulty is having a few minutes of fame as chief of the EDVA. The DAG job would be an upward move on paper, but, as one former DOJ official put it, “less fun than what he has now.” Yang is the only woman and the only non-Caucasian in the field. She also has allies at the White House. In fact, the administration reached out to her for a seat on the federal bench, but Yang turned it down, saying she would prefer the job of U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, according to two sources. Like the other U.S. attorneys whose names have been floated for the DAG position, Yang sits on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, a body of 17 prosecutors that meets regularly in Washington. Bush appointed her U.S. attorney in May 2002. Before that, she was a judge on the Los Angeles Superior Court, and prior to that, she sat on the city’s Municipal Court bench. Fitzgerald and Comey, on the other hand, are both inveterate prosecutors with a shared history as AUSAs in the Southern District of New York. And both are veterans of terrorism cases — key when terrorism is the DOJ’s priority. “Fitzgerald’s experience as the chief terrorism prosecutor when [the SDNY] was the locus of all the terrorism cases would give him a lot of credibility in the intelligence community,” says a former DAG. And Fitzgerald’s current position in one of the country’s busiest districts gives him management points. He and Comey were both on the list of possible replacements for former Criminal Division chief Michael Chertoff, before Christopher Wray was named. It is Comey, though, that most observers point to as the likely pick. Like Fitzgerald, he has formidable prosecutorial experience. He built an impressive record in Richmond, where he was deputy U.S. attorney for the EDVA during the last administration. Since his arrival in New York, his office has launched a fleet of high-profile corporate fraud cases. Still, the deputy attorney general spot is a White House appointment. In the past, the White House has generally selected a DAG in consultation with the attorney general. Other candidates are expected to emerge from the White House Office of the Chief of Staff. Neither Chief of Staff Andrew Card Jr. nor the White House press office returned calls seeking comment. Names that have come up repeatedly in conversations with former administration officials as well as with current and former DOJ officials as likely candidates are McGuireWoods partner Richard Cullen, White & Case partner George Terwilliger III, and Bureau of Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert Bonner. Cullen’s name has been ubiquitous on lists for plum appointments in this administration. He served as an adviser to the DOJ transition team following the 2000 election. And he was U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia from 1991 to 1993. In 1997, then-Gov. George Allen tapped him to be attorney general of Virginia, a post he held until 1998. Cullen declined comment. Terwilliger is another who could slide easily into the job, having served as deputy attorney general from 1991 through 1992. He, too, advised the Bush transition team. And from 1986 to 1990 he was U.S. attorney for the District of Vermont. Terwilliger says that “while it would be an honor to be considered to serve this president, I think it is unlikely that I would be chosen.” Bonner declined comment. Although not as well-known as some of the others, he has the right bona fides. The former U.S. Navy judge advocate general, Bonner was U.S. attorney for the Central District of California from 1984 to 1989. He was appointed to the federal bench in that district in 1989, but left the next year to head the Drug Enforcement Administration. And Bonner’s most recent stint in private practice was at the Bush-friendly Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Whoever fills the slot is in for an eventful term. Running the department during an election year, says one former DAG, “can be nasty.” Siobhan Roth is a reporter for Legal Times , a Recorder affiliate based in Washington, D.C.

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