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What does your job have to do with that quadrennial frenzy, the race for the presidency of the United States? More than you think. Throughout the history of the republic, the links between commanders in chief and chief legal officers have been many and mysterious. Trolling through newspaper archives, history texts, and presidential Web sites, we came up with some startling facts: Abraham Lincoln, a very successful lawyer, frequently represented the Illinois Central Railroad in court. At the time one of the most powerful companies in the country, the Illinois Central owned what was then the world’s longest railway. Historian David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln Reconsidered notes that in 1860 the railroad offered Lincoln the post of general counsel. Luckily, the Great Emancipator declined. A similar near-miss almost robbed the nation of President Grover Cleveland. A lawyer who became sheriff of Erie County, mayor of Buffalo, and governor of New York, Cleveland was thrifty (he saved the county money by performing hangings himself) and reform-minded. Looking to improve its scandal-ridden image, the New York Central Railroad offered Cleveland the post of general counsel. The salary was considerable for those days � $15,000 per year. Cleveland publicly spurned the position, according to the memoirs of industrialist Chancey Depew. President Theodore Roosevelt, romping about the Mississippi Delta and loaded for bear, declined to dispatch an incapacitated ursus tethered to a tree. Upon close scrutiny, however, contemporary accounts yield a little-known fact. Present at that decisive moment in 1902 was one Jacob Dickinson, general counsel of, yes, the Illinois Central Railroad. The other President Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, and his alphabet soup of New Deal agencies added a heap of GCs to the public payroll. Among them were Charles Fahy, the first general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board; Jerome Frank, GC of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration; Thomas Eliot, GC of the Social Security Board; and Herman Oliphant, GC of the U.S. Department of Treasury. Of all the American presidents, the one who came closest to working as an in-house lawyer himself was Richard Nixon. In 1959, as vice president under Dwight Eisenhower, he engineered a meeting between Donald Kendall, president of PepsiCo, Inc., and Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow � and made sure the papers got a photo of them quaffing Pepsi together. After Nixon lost to John Kennedy in 1960, Kendall hired him as a “special ambassador” for Pepsi. In 1963 Nixon joined Mudge, Stern, Baldwin & Todd, taking the beverage company’s business along with him. Perhaps the most infamous, and certainly one of the most colorful, general counsel associated with the presidency was G. Gordon Liddy. As GC of the Committee to Reelect the President (CREEP), he organized the June 1972 break-ins at Democratic headquarters. Liddy served four years of a 20-year sentence for burglary and contempt of court. He’s now an author and host of a syndicated radio show. Another high-profile ex-CLO was Caspar Weinberger, secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan. He became GC, vice president, and director of the Bechtel Group of Companies in 1975. Weinberger left in 1981 to go to the Pentagon. Bill Clinton was less successful in his attempt to bring a former GC into his administration. His first choice for attorney general, Zo� Baird, was the general counsel of Aetna Life and Casualty. Her candidacy was scuppered in January 1993 when it was revealed that she had hired undocumented immigrants to work in her house. That revelation and subsequent questions about other Clinton picks, including federal judge Kimba Wood (who didn’t get the job), came to be known as Nannygate. Matthew Zinn, the vice president, general counsel, and chief privacy officer of television recording service TiVo Inc., counts The West Wing among his favorite television programs.

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