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After 17 years as the top legal mind at People for the American Way, Elliot Mincberg is now the House Judiciary Committee’s new chief counsel for oversight and investigations. Just don’t ask him about his new job. The move silences, at least publicly, the oft-quoted Mincberg, whose pronouncements on everything from judicial nominations to wiretapping were reliable media fodder for years. (According to Lexis/Nexis, he was quoted 566 times by “major newspapers” since 1990.) “It’s our policy that staff don’t get quoted,” says a committee staffer who was not sure he could be quoted — even anonymously — describing the rule. Mincberg, obviously, declined to comment. No matter. If Mincberg has lost his voice, he has gained a much stronger tool: the subpoena power of the majority. Although House Democrats insist they will use subpoenas only as a last resort, Mincberg’s new position indicates that Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) plans to take his oversight role seriously. Mincberg, 54, will head up a special investigative unit within the full committee that will eventually have three or four lawyers and could look into everything from the Justice Department’s civil rights, environment, and antitrust divisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review. Its first oversight hearing on presidential signing statements will be on Jan. 31. And two new staffers have already joined the unit: former American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney LaShawn Warren and former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Robert Reed Jr. Mincberg graduated from Harvard Law School in 1977 (Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was a classmate), then spent a dozen years at Hogan & Hartson before joining PFAW. “Elliot gives our committee a great amount of experience and credibility and has a wealth of knowledge about sensitive civil liberty and civil-rights issues,” says House Judiciary Chief of Staff Perry Applebaum, the sole staffer who could be coaxed into a public comment. PFAW President Ralph Neas needed no such prodding to sing Mincberg’s praises: “It was an offer he had to accept. We’re sorry to lose him. But it’s wonderful news for the country.” At least Neas can still be counted on in the clutch for a quote.
T.R. Goldman can be contacted at [email protected].

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