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Former U.S. Attorney Larry D. Thompson of Atlanta reportedly has been selected by U.S. Attorney General-nominee John Ashcroft to be his second-in-command. Citing an unnamed source close to the nomination process, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Wednesday that Ashcroft has chosen the 55-year-old Thompson �- now a partner at Atlanta’s King & Spalding — as deputy attorney general. On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed Bush advisers, reported that Thompson “had the inside track” for the post. But the Journal also reported that Asa Hutchinson, a Congressman from Arkansas, also was being considered. In the meantime, Robert Mueller, currently the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, has taken charge of the U.S. Justice Department’s operations as acting deputy attorney general, sparking speculation that he could be appointed permanently. Thompson declined to comment Wednesday on whether he had been offered or had accepted the position. Joe D. Whitley, an Alston & Bird partner who was U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Georgia from 1989 to 1993 during the senior George Bush’s administration, says he had heard, but could not confirm, rumors that Thompson was being considered. “I think it’s a superb idea,” Whitley says of a Thompson Justice appointment. “Larry is more than qualified for many positions in the Justice Department. He would bring a lot of depth in terms of his energy level and experience.” Thompson, he continues, “has been on a lot of short lists” and is “someone who would be a likely candidate to be in one of the key positions in the Justice Department.” In fact, after chairing Georgia Lawyers for George Bush (the current president’s father) more than a decade ago, Thompson turned down an offer to serve as assistant Treasury secretary in the senior Bush Administration, citing family and financial concerns. He eventually accepted a part-time post in 1980 as associate independent counsel to investigate alleged corruption at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1990. MILLER PRAISES THOMPSON U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, the first Democrat to publicly endorse Ashcroft’s nomination as U.S. Attorney General, said Wednesday through his press secretary that he was unaware that Thompson is being considered. But Miller called Thompson’s selection “a great idea,” adding, “I can’t think of anybody better for the job.” If Ashcroft has selected Thompson, the move could ameliorate harsh criticism of the Republican former Missouri senator as a closet racist who skewered the federal judicial nomination of a widely respected African-American, opposed a voluntary school desegregation plan when he was Missouri’s state attorney general, and gave a seemingly sympathetic interview with a Confederate heritage publication. Thompson, a Republican African-American with ties to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and the administrations of President Ronald Reagan and President George Bush Sr., also has said he generally supports affirmative action programs, although he was once a member of the board of the conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation, which has challenged such programs in court. In addition, Thompson is, like Ashcroft, a native Missourian. Born in 1945, he grew up in Hannibal, Mark Twain’s hometown, and graduated cum laude from Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Mo. After earning a master’s degree in 1969 at Michigan State University and his law degree in 1974 at the University of Michigan, Thompson began his career at the Monsanto Corp., where he worked alongside future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, according to the Post-Dispatch. Nearly 15 years later, Thompson would represent Thomas, appointed to the court by the senior Bush, during Thomas’ controversial confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate in 1991, according to King & Spalding’s Web site. He also, according to several news reports, testified on Thomas’ behalf. JOINED KING & SPALDING IN ’77 Thompson joined Atlanta’s King & Spalding in 1977, the year that King & Spalding partner Griffin B. Bell became President Jimmy Carter’s U.S. Attorney General. Bell returned to King & Spalding after Carter was defeated in 1980 and subsequently defended the current president’s father during the “Iraqgate” investigation in the early 90s. “I think Larry has been there with Judge Bell a good bit of his career,” says Atlanta attorney Edgar H. Sims Jr., the former chairman of Georgia’s Democratic Party and now the managing partner of Long Aldridge & Norman’s Washington office. “Looking back on the [Justice] Department, the attorney general who sort of stands out as very revered is Griffin Bell. If Larry brings that sort of touch to his efforts at the department, I think he will leave a great legacy.” In 1982, Reagan appointed Thompson as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. After serving one term, Thompson returned to King & Spalding in 1986 and resumed his practice in civil and criminal litigation. Thompson’s current practice focuses on white-collar criminal defense and corporate investigations. In 1995, he was named an independent counsel during the prosecution of former Interior Secretary James G. Watt on charges of lying to Congress. Thompson also was one of the King & Spalding attorneys who last year negotiated a $192 million race discrimination settlement on behalf of the Coca-Cola Co. with about 2,000 of the soft drink company’s African-American employees. Despite assertions that he supports affirmative action programs “in general,” Thompson served on the legal advisory board of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, which has, among other high-profile cases, battled the City of Atlanta’s affirmative action program and sought the disbarment of former President Bill Clinton. But in 1999, after the foundation was attacked by Atlanta’s black Democratic mayor for its affirmative action stance, Thompson resigned his position. Jonathan Ringel of Legal Times contributed to this report.

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