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He may be a conservative now, but Steven Bradbury has liberal roots. The acting chief of the Justice Department’s influential Office of Legal Counsel campaigned door-to-door for Jimmy Carter in 1976 and volunteered for Democrat Gary Hart’s presidential primary campaign in 1984. And the 49-year-old � reviled by Democrats for his legal work on interrogation techniques and warrantless wiretapping � is a big fan of the Grateful Dead and Neil Young. Bradbury burnished his conservative credentials after he graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1988 and later worked as clerk to Judge James Buckley of the U.S. District Court for the D.C. Circuit and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. “He was a very big influence on me, and it’s probably around that time, in 1990 I suppose, that I actually switched my party affiliation,” Bradbury says of Judge Buckley, the older brother of the late conservative icon William Buckley Jr. Though his confirmation has stalled in the Senate because of Democrats’ opposition since 2005, Bradbury remains hopeful that he may yet get confirmed as OLC’s assistant attorney general. Democrats say that wish won’t be fulfilled. “I have grave concerns about Mr. Bradbury’s judgment, particularly in light of an OLC opinion he authored that reportedly approves abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding,” says Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who has reviewed some of Bradbury’s classified legal opinions and is a member of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees. “I’m deeply troubled at indications that Mr. Bradbury’s work follows a disturbing pattern within the Bush Department of Justice, in which ideology comes before facts and the law.” Friends and former colleagues say Bradbury is an honest lawyer who’s been vilified for taking unpopular positions. “There has been occasional suggestion in the media that he’s been a yes man for the administration, but I know for a fact that isn’t so,” says Howard Nielson Jr., who served alongside Bradbury at the OLC until 2005 and is now a partner at Cooper & Kirk. “He goes where the law leads him and lets the chips fall where they may.” Before his Republican awakening, Bradbury was far removed from the conservative movement. At Stanford University in the late 1970s, Bradbury lived in a student-run vegetarian commune called the Synergy House Cooperative. After graduation, he spent four months traveling in Nicaragua after the Sandinistas toppled dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979 and installed a communist government backed by Cuba and the Soviet Union. At the Michigan Law Review in mid-1980s, he became article editor after Ann Coulter � the future political commentator and author � stepped down. “She was an acquaintance. I didn’t know her all that well,” Bradbury says. “She was president of the Federalist Society and kind of a firebrand.” He failed to get a clerkship upon graduation from Michigan law. Instead, Bradbury went to Covington & Burling for two years. As an associate, he successfully defended Missouri and Washington against claims by nursing homes and hospitals for Medicaid reimbursements. In 1991, after working for Judge Buckley, he joined the OLC as an attorney-adviser and worked under then-OLC assistant attorney general Timothy Flanigan. The following year, Bradbury clerked for Justice Thomas. In 1993, he landed at Kirkland & Ellis where he thrived in civil litigation and administrative law, representing United Airlines and GTE, Bell Atlantic, and other telephone companies. “Steve was very good at everything he did,” says Paul Cappuccio, who hired him at Kirkland & Ellis and is Time Warner’s general counsel. “He’s got an incredible ability to learn very quickly to do things he hasn’t done before.” A former high-ranking Justice Department official says the lack of a Senate confirmation is pure politics, but it also shows the deep mistrust generated by a now-infamous OLC memo on torture issued in 2002 by Bradbury’s predecessors that was withdrawn and revised in late 2004 by ex-OLC chiefs Jack Goldsmith and Daniel Levin. “This is a reflection of a strongly held competing view of how to conduct the war on terror,” says the official who worked alongside Bradbury. “There are people who feel strongly on both sides, which tends to break down along party lines. Steve’s just caught in the middle.”
Pedro Ruz Gutierrez can be contacted at [email protected].

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