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Hard-nosed prosecutor. Evangelical true believer. Bush loyalist. Movement conservative. Of all the labels affixed to John Ashcroft during his more than quarter-century in the public eye, deal maker hasn’t been one of them. But as Ashcroft moves from political partisan and administration foot soldier to corporate lobbyist, he is trying to repackage his persona. Where once he reveled in his image as a spear carrier for the Christian right, today the former attorney general presents himself as a polished influence man, one ready to use his experience and connections on behalf of well-heeled clients. You wouldn’t necessarily expect this from Ashcroft. Though silky ex-senators like Louisiana’s John Breaux have quickly become K Street naturals, Ashcroft is rougher trade. Former attorneys general often choose to feather their nest at law firms where they can earn seven figures while billing clients $700 an hour on white-collar criminal cases. And during his tenure as AG, Ashcroft styled himself as the grim-visaged point man in the war on terrorism. For many, he personified the administration’s hard-line stance on civil liberties. And it left him with baggage most former high-level government officials don’t have to worry about. Still, Ashcroft chose to play against type and hang out a shingle downtown. “He’s not at the of counsel point of his life,” says Juleanna Glover Weiss, a lobbyist for the Ashcroft Group. “He still wants to play on a very high level.” Ashcroft’s successful entry into lobbying may hinge on how closely he’s identified with his contentious profile in the Senate and in the Bush administration. As a politician, Ashcroft liked to wrap himself in the red, white, and blue. But the color K Street cares about is green, and his record of speaking out on divisive issues such as abortion and the USA Patriot Act could make it tougher for him to shed his image as a political lightning rod. Ashcroft’s allies think he can make the switch. “The controversies that he was involved with were never personal,” says David Israelite, the president of the National Music Publishers Association and a former top Ashcroft aide. “The fact that he’s tough is an added benefit to companies. . . . They know he’s going to be a straight shooter. He’s not going to pull punches in the advice he’s going to give.” A MAN TO SEE? Ashcroft’s background in business is limited. Though he taught business law in the early 1970s and served as state auditor and, ultimately, governor of Missouri, he has never held a management position in the private sector. “He was basically the CEO of a 130,000-person law firm,” says Adam Ciongoli, a former general counsel at Time Warner Europe and a former Ashcroft adviser at the Justice Department who was recently chosen to clerk for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr. “He managed really significant litigation over a four-year period [at DOJ] and understands complicated civil litigations and how to deal with regulatory agencies.” Before deciding to open his own shop, Ashcroft, 63, and his longtime aide David Ayres consulted with more than two dozen former Cabinet-level officials on how to successfully make the jump into the business world. (Ashcroft declined to be interviewed for this article.) In the months after his decision, Ashcroft assembled a small team of confidants, found office space on New York Avenue Northwest near the White House, and quietly began soliciting clients who deal with issues involving homeland security, antitrust, and corporate governance. True to form, Ashcroft assembled his team from a small circle of close advisers. Besides Ayres, he tapped Republican lobbyist Weiss as his main conduit to Capitol Hill. He also brought on DOJ alum Lori Sharpe Day, formerly a lobbyist for the Air Transport Association of America, and former Bush fund-raiser William Gaynor to fill out the ranks. Ayres says the firm plans to expand further next month. Ashcroft’s business plan tracks that of other former Cabinet-level and political appointees who have capitalized on their time in government, such as former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who formed The Cohen Group, and former Federal Emergency Management Agency heads Joe Allbaugh and his predecessor, James Lee Witt, all of whom have built successful lobbying and consulting businesses. “I’m still a lightning rod,” says Allbaugh, now president of The Allbaugh Co. “[The media] think I’m arranging every contract that FEMA or Halliburton has ever won. That just comes with the territory. I don’t like it, but that’s one of the trade-offs.” But Allbaugh’s profile was never as high or as incendiary as Ashcroft’s. Other former politicians turned lobbyists see value in having a conciliatory reputation. Breaux, for example, says his bipartisan nature and experience brokering compromises on Capitol Hill eased his transition to Patton Boggs.”[Ashcroft's] controversial; either they loved him or they didn’t like him at all,” says Breaux. But Ayres says the firm hasn’t been negatively affected by Ashcroft’s history. “People don’t always agree with [Ashcroft] on particular issues, but there is still a very high level of respect for his integrity and his honesty,” Ayres says. The former attorney general’s ability to build a practice based on contacts within the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice could be difficult. Most of his former DOJ underlings have already left for the private sector. Some lobbyists question how effectively Ashcroft will be able to leverage his ties at the agency level and in Congress. “I see John’s value as understanding what’s happening from his perspective as a former attorney general and former senator, but not necessarily in terms of contacts,” says Larry Thompson, general counsel at PepsiCo Corp. and a former deputy attorney general under Ashcroft. In the past five months the Ashcroft Group has signed corporate clients including eBay Inc., Oracle Corp., and ChoicePoint Inc., among others, taking in $289,000 in lobbying revenue. In its marketing pitch the firm emphasizes a broader mission than simply lobbying Congress. Oracle is a case in point. It hired Ashcroft’s firm just as it was facing a Justice Department investigation of its takeover of technology giant Siebel Systems Inc., and it is Ashcroft’s most lucrative client, paying his firm $220,000 for three months of work. To date, Oracle is the only client that Ashcroft has personally registered to lobby, but his one-year ban of lobbying the Justice Department ended earlier this month. Weiss says that Ashcroft provided Oracle with strategic advice about the antitrust review process. That’s noteworthy because in 2004, as attorney general, Ashcroft sued the company to block its takeover of PeopleSoft Inc. Oracle won that round against the DOJ in court. But when it launched a takeover of Siebel, it wasn’t taking any chances. Oracle beefed up its Washington presence, including hiring Ashcroft’s firm. Less than a month after Oracle retained Ashcroft, the Justice Department dropped its antitrust inquiry of the Siebel acquisition. Weiss declined to go into detail about the firm’s work for Oracle, citing a non-disclosure agreement. In addition to Oracle, the firm has focused on helping security clients, such as ChoicePoint, the information-mining giant, and LTU Technologies, sell services to the government. “Ashcroft is working with ChoicePoint on business development, primarily in the Department of Justice and Homeland Security areas,” says Chuck Jones, a spokesman for ChoicePoint. The firm has also capitalized on Weiss’ experience as a former spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney. Two weeks ago the firm signed up to lobby for eBay just as the tech company was preparing to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to appeal a patent infringement case it lost in district court two years ago. Despite Ashcroft Group registering to lobby, an eBay spokesperson says the company expects Weiss only to do PR with the Washington media. DIRECTING THE DIRECTORS Another area of focus for Ashcroft is consulting on corporate governance issues. In the post-Sarbanes-Oxley era, nervous officers and directors have created a growth market for such advice, and firm members have been shuttling regularly to meetings in New York to pitch their expertise as Washington insiders. Ayres sees the firm’s role as discreetly helping companies with corporate governance issues to navigate the Justice Department. Getting a big gun on your side in such investigations � especially one with ties to the administration and who knows the inner workings of DOJ deliberations � can be key, say white-collar lawyers. “There is no question, particularly in corporate internal investigations, that a client really wants someone who has been in government and who has a big-time reputation, because it adds a lot of credibility,” says Dan Webb, a partner at Chicago-based Winston & Strawn who is currently representing former Illinois Gov. George Ryan (R) on federal corruption charges. Though Ashcroft has stature as the nation’s former top cop, he faces significant competition in corporate governance from more established names, including former Sen. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.) of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, and Garrison, who has done external reviews for Boeing and is currently independent counsel to Fannie Mae’s investigation of accounting irregularities. “[Ashcroft's] not a name you usually associate in this area, because of his politics and being the attorney general,” says Peter Henning, a white-collar-crime expert and law professor at Wayne State University. “Whenever [a company] hires a consultant before or after the fact, they want someone who’ll get their phone calls returned � that come in with credibility and contacts in hiring him.” Nevertheless, Ashcroft’s firm claims it has 11 clients in the corporate governance arena, though it declines to reveal any of their names or discuss what they are doing, and unlike with its lobbying work, it isn’t required to. This reluctance highlights another aspect of Ashcroft’s firm: a high degree of secrecy that is emblematic of the ex-attorney general’s Justice Department days. Former FEMA Director Allbaugh, for example, chooses to register all of his clients, whether or not he ever lobbies Congress on their behalf. “I’ve taken an open-book position on [registering clients],” says Allbaugh. “I’m sure half or more we wouldn’t have to register.” Ashcroft’s firm, on the other hand, is so tight-lipped about its advice to clients that it has taken the unusual step of making all of them sign non-disclosure agreements as part of the standard contract. “Clients must receive specific permission before using Ashcroft’s name in any way, and vice versa,” says Weiss. It appears keeping secrets is one old habit John Ashcroft is in no hurry to break.
Anna Palmer can be contacted at [email protected].

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