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Washington is a town where who you know often matters more than what you know. That, at least, is what seems to matter in the appointment of Marc Kesselman as general counsel for the Department of Agriculture. Kesselman, who was sworn in earlier this month, has little background in agriculture, but he comes from the Office of Management and Budget, where as associate general counsel he became intimately familiar with the maneuvering between federal agencies’ legal offices. “I don’t pretend to be an expert in veterinary medicine or in farming, but USDA has many experts in those fields,” says Kesselman, 34, who on occasion helped USDA lawyers draft regulations in his previous post. His appointment comes at an important time for the agency, which will be a key player in the upcoming farm bill as well as in coordinating policy for avian flu and mad-cow disease. Before his move to the White House, Kesselman spent three years at the Justice Department, including a stint working under Viet Dinh in the Office of Legal Policy. Kesselman isn’t the only lawyer leaving OMB. General counsel Raul Yanes headed to the West Wing last week as staff secretary and assistant to the president, following his boss, Joshua Bolten, who took over as chief of staff for the president in March. Yanes replaces Brett Kavanaugh, who was sworn in this month to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Though the position will undoubtedly bring Yanes, 40, closer to the president, he is no stranger to the inner workings of the White House. He served as associate White House counsel from 2003 to 2005, where he was one of the middlemen between the administration and investigators probing the outing of former CIA agent Valerie Plame. Yanes then headed over to Justice, where he spent seven months as counselor to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Emma Schwartz can be contacted at [email protected].

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