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Concerns about terrorism, law enforcement, and politics aside, this is what people really want to know about the new attorney general, Alberto Gonzales: Is he going to take those curtains down? For three years, a pair of partially nude statues in the Great Hall of the Justice Department have remained hidden behind blue curtains, courtesy of Gonzales’ predecessor, John Ashcroft, who felt that the statues were too risqué. It may seem silly to worry about curtains when the nation confronts the threat of terrorist attacks. But to many inside and outside the department, the answer will symbolize whether Gonzales plans to change the partisan tone set by Ashcroft during his tenure as attorney general. In his first four weeks on the job, Gonzales has managed to avoid the curtain question by not holding events in the Great Hall. But day by day, Gonzales has been putting his stamp on the department in other ways — installing advisers, articulating his goals as attorney general, and reaching out to the department’s career ranks. While many of Gonzales’ top law enforcement priorities are sure to echo Ashcroft’s, DOJ insiders say his leadership style already appears to be quite different. One senior DOJ official speaking on the condition of anonymity describes Gonzales as more low-key and accessible than Ashcroft, who rarely interacted directly with department lawyers. The official says Gonzales has made a point, when possible, of walking the halls and asking questions in person rather than communicating through aides. In another break from the Ashcroft era, the AG’s morning staff meeting now includes Deputy Attorney General James Comey Jr. and Associate AG Robert McCallum — an indication that Gonzales intends to rely on a broader circle of advisers than did Ashcroft. Past attorneys general, like Republican Bill Barr and Democrat Janet Reno, included an even wider array of department officials in the morning meeting. “Reno was like a wheel with everyone coming at the hub. Ashcroft was far less accessible, running the department like a governor’s mansion,” says another senior DOJ lawyer, who asked to remain unidentified. “Now I think what Gonzales is trying to do is find a balance between those two things.” Theodore Ullyot, Gonzales’ chief of staff, says his boss will meet regularly with the heads of the Justice Department’s various components and eventually hopes to get to know many DOJ career attorneys. “He has great respect and appreciation for the expertise in the department’s professional staff, and he wants to hear from them directly,” Ullyot says. THE NEW INNER CIRCLE On Feb. 23 Gonzales addressed a group of federal prosecutors at the National Advocacy Center, a DOJ training facility in Columbia, S.C. After concluding the speech, Gonzales followed the group into the cafeteria, where he spent more than an hour talking to the counterterrorism coordinators for U.S. attorneys offices across the country. Kenneth Wainstein, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, says Gonzales’ actions sent a powerful signal. “These weren’t even U.S. attorneys. These were line folks. It says a lot that he traveled all the way down there to address them,” Wainstein says. “Number one: It says a lot about the importance of their mission. And number two: It’s quite a positive reflection of how Gonzales has been reaching out to folks at the department.” Gonzales’ more-inclusive management style is in keeping with his reputation as a mild-mannered and down-to-earth lawyer with few hard edges to his personality. Kirkland & Ellis partner Jay Lefkowitz, who, as a domestic policy adviser worked two doors down from Gonzales in the White House, says Gonzales was always “extremely accessible.” “I’d walk into his office. He’d walk into mine. He’s someone who really got down into the details of issues,” Lefkowitz says. In contrast, Ashcroft devoted his energy to setting broad strategies and preferred to avoid the ins and outs of specific investigations. A former U.S. senator and two-term Missouri governor, Ashcroft ran the department with a politician’s eye toward public opinion. Ullyot, a former White House lawyer, and Ashcroft’s chief of staff, David Ayres, also have very different personalities. Before joining the administration in January 2003, Ullyot worked in the general counsel’s office at the then-named AOL Time Warner. His connections in conservative Republican circles run deep. A graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, Ullyot clerked for prominent conservative Judge J. Michael Luttig of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Ullyot, 37, then joined the D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis, where he worked alongside a number of lawyers who would go on to hold influential posts in President George W. Bush’s administration — including Lefkowitz, former Ashcroft adviser Adam Ciongoli, and current White House staff secretary Brett Kavanaugh, a nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. It was Kavanaugh who drew Ullyot to the White House counsel’s office. When Kavanaugh became staff secretary in March 2004, Ullyot left Gonzales’ staff to work with him. Friends describe Ullyot as hard-working, smart, and principled. “I think he really impressed Gonzales when he was in the counsel’s office,” says Ciongoli, who now holds Ullyot’s old post at Time Warner. (Ullyot, in fact, has moved into Ciongoli’s old office on the fifth floor of Main Justice.) While Gonzales clearly holds Ullyot in high regard, few expect him to wield as much power within the department as his predecessor. Though not a lawyer, Ayres was heavily involved in department operations, at times acting more as a second deputy AG than a traditional chief of staff. Any matter requiring Ashcroft’s attention first had to go through Ayres. Even presidentially appointed division heads and U.S. attorneys rarely dealt directly with the AG. Ayres, who ran Ashcroft’s Senate office and managed his unsuccessful campaign for re-election in 2000, was known for his shrewd political instincts and his absolute loyalty to Ashcroft. Ayres’ supporters say that his skill as a strategist helped reshape the department following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But critics say Ayres too often focused on Ashcroft’s political interests instead of legal considerations. “David Ayres had a mission and that mission was John Ashcroft,” says one of the senior DOJ lawyers. “He was always looking for a way to put his boss out there in the best light.” Those who know Ullyot expect that he will take a different approach to the job. “I don’t know how Ted is going to do it, but I’m sure he won’t have as heavy a hand as Ayres did,” says one former senior Justice Department official who worked with Ullyot. Ayres — who is still at Ashcroft’s side, promoting the former AG as a consultant and public speaker — did not return phone calls seeking comment. Rounding out Gonzales’ front office staff are Deputy Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson and Senior Counselor Raul Yanes. Sampson is a holdover from Ashcroft’s staff, though he worked for Gonzales in the White House counsel’s office from 2001 to 2003. Yanes, a former partner in New York’s Davis Polk & Wardwell, also worked with Gonzales at the White House. It remains to be seen if Gonzales will bring in others to fill key political slots. Criminal Division chief Christopher Wray announced two weeks ago that he plans to step down in the near future, leaving at least one vacancy. Gonzales has inherited both Comey, the deputy attorney general, and interim solicitor general Paul Clement. Several DOJ sources say they believe Comey will stay on for at least several months, despite occasional friction between his office and the White House. Gonzales won Senate confirmation Feb. 3 in a surprisingly close 60-36 vote. His nomination faced opposition from many Democrats who believe that Gonzales contributed to the abuse of terror suspects in U.S. custody by sanctioning aggressive interrogation tactics. Since arriving at the department, Gonzales has tried to reassure critics that he is committed to the rule of law and intends to protect the interests of all Americans. “I now represent not just one client, but all of you, the people of the United States,” Gonzales said Feb. 28 in a speech to the board of overseers of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Gonzales delivered the speech in a measured, even tone, without the alarmist rhetoric often employed by Ashcroft. In discussing the coming debate over reauthorization of USA Patriot Act powers set to expire at the end of 2005, Gonzales said that he “looked forward to hearing the views of others.” “Debate and discussion reflect our strength as a democracy,” he said. “We all share the same goal: to give law enforcement the tools they need to keep America safe, while honoring our values.” The remarks seemed calculated to distance Gonzales from Ashcroft’s inflammatory statement to Congress that those who oppose the Patriot Act aid terrorists. But while Gonzales’ style has been conciliatory, those who expected a more moderate Justice Department under his watch have been disappointed. STAYING THE COURSE Gonzales used the Feb. 28 speech to lay out his major goals at the department. Nearly every item on his agenda — combating terrorism, prosecuting gun crimes, securing victims’ rights, and cracking down on obscenity — are continuations of initiatives started by Ashcroft. Gonzales also indicated that he would remain heavily involved in selecting federal judges and would use his post at the Justice Department to help push through the president’s judicial nominees. Administration insiders say they don’t anticipate any significant policy shifts. “[Gonzales] was sufficiently involved in the main policies of the Justice Department while he was working at the White House that there’s not a bunch of stuff going on that he wasn’t aware of,” says a third senior DOJ official. “It would have really surprised me if he’d come in and said, ‘Gee, why are we doing this?’ “ As for continuing another Ashcroft initiative, the question of those curtains protecting the modesty of the Great Hall statues is still out there. But one month into Gonzales’ tenure, few DOJ lawyers expect to lay eyes on the statues anytime soon. Vanessa Blum can be contacted at [email protected].

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