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Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff grows impatient when he feels his time is being wasted. And one might expect Chertoff to surround himself with advisers who share his precise way of communicating, his almost hypnotic logic, his legendary intensity. So some might be surprised upon first meeting Alice Fisher, handpicked by Chertoff to oversee the DOJ Criminal Division’s now-vast initiatives related to terrorism and corporate fraud. Unlike Chertoff, a former U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Fisher has never worked as a prosecutor. Also unlike her boss, who speaks deliberately, with gravitas, Fisher comes across as chatty and relaxed, and perennially cheerful. But behind the sunny disposition and despite the gap in her r�sum�, friends and colleagues say, Fisher possesses a sharp intellect. And in a way, Fisher, who turns 36 this month, is even more impressive because she possesses the confidence to be herself. It also doesn’t hurt that she has Chertoff’s confidence. “She is one of the best lawyers I’ve seen in my entire career,” Chertoff says. “I seek her advice not only on the specific areas that she handles, but across the board on all the work of the division.” When Fisher joined the department in July 2001 as a top aide to Criminal Division chief Chertoff, she was primarily interested in fraud cases. A former corporate defense attorney in the Washington, D.C., office of Latham & Watkins, Fisher hoped to round out her r�sum� with a stint in government service. Following Chertoff, a longtime colleague and mentor, seemed a logical professional step. “I was very interested in managing the Fraud Section. I thought that would be a great way to serve the administration and also to advance my career,” Fisher says. “I didn’t really care how the rest of it got divvied up.” As it happened, Fisher now oversees the department’s two top law enforcement priorities — terrorism and corporate fraud. One of five deputy assistants in the Criminal Division, she also supervises capital murder cases and criminal appellate litigation. What’s more, she gave birth to her second child just six weeks before starting at the department. At the time of her arrival, DOJ officials had targeted terrorism and computer crime as two key areas where the Criminal Division should devote increased attention and resources. Fisher took on terrorism; to balance their workloads, the division’s second political deputy received computer crime. But within five months, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the collapse of Enron Corp. amid charges of improper accounting had left Fisher managing the Criminal Division’s two most active components. For both terrorism and corporate crime, Fisher must coordinate how scores of Assistant U.S. Attorneys across the country handle high-profile cases and ensure that decisions made on individual cases do not undermine the administration’s larger agenda. The position could have been treacherous for an outsider with no time in the trenches as a line prosecutor, but colleagues say Fisher has earned a reputation for respecting the judgment of the department’s career lawyers. “Alice is a very quick study, and she has very good instincts,” says Barry Sabin, a longtime prosecutor who reports to Fisher as head of the Justice Department’s Counterterrorism Section. “She listens to folks who have prosecutorial experience and is able to marshal that information and make well-reasoned decisions.” Michael Battle, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, where six Buffalo residents have been charged with supporting al-Qaida, says Fisher has a knack for balancing the concerns of lawyers on the case with the priorities of Main Justice. “She is very good at communicating what the mission is and what matters to the people in Washington,” Battle says. “She’s also very good at listening and giving deference to issues of concern to lawyers in the field.” Paul McNulty, the top federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of Virginia, says despite Fisher’s background in white-collar crime, she has become “devoted” to the administration’s war against terrorism. “She’s thrust herself heart and soul into the counterterrorism mission,” says McNulty, whose office is prosecuting alleged 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui. “What she lacks in prosecutorial experience she makes up in knowledge of the law and an ability to understand the facts of the matter we are dealing with.” The youngest of six children, Fisher was born in Louisville, Ky. She attended Vanderbilt University, earning a degree in economics and political science. In 1993, Fisher graduated from law school at Catholic University. In 1995, after a brief stint as a litigation associate in the D.C. office of New York’s Sullivan & Cromwell, Fisher interviewed for a position with the Senate Whitewater Committee. Chertoff, the committee’s chief Republican counsel, hired Fisher as his deputy. “What really impressed me was her ability to master very complicated financial transactions, figure out what was important, and organize the facts,” Chertoff says. When the committee’s work ended a year later, Chertoff returned to the New Jersey office of Latham & Watkins where he had previously been a partner. Fisher joined the firm’s D.C. office and continued to work with Chertoff on white-collar matters. In 2000, she became a partner. Chertoff says Fisher’s lack of prosecutorial experience has never been a concern. “On the Senate committee and in private practice, I have seen her work on high-pressure investigations with very complex and very demanding sets of facts,” Chertoff says. “In terms of actually trying cases in court, frankly, that is not what she does in her job.” In some ways, the two make an unlikely pair — Chertoff severe and Fisher nearly always cheerful. Latham partner Maureen Mahoney, a friend and former colleague of Fisher, says: “She has tremendous optimism. Alice just doesn’t seem to know how to get depressed.” Testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee panel in October 2002, Fisher stood out in a striking red suit. She threw a wink to a DOJ staffer before the session came to order. But in their own styles, both Chertoff and Fisher bring an almost palpable intensity and seemingly boundless energy to their work. “When we get a briefing from Alice on terrorist matters, they are always very tight, very structured, and very clear,” says Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson. “You know very thorough review and analysis has gone into them.” Fisher’s energy and commitment have been put to the test since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. With two young sons at home — one just 12 weeks old at the time — Fisher spent months working 16-hour days, seven days a week. “Search warrants needed to be done. People were being picked up, and investigation leads needed to be handled. INS issues needed to be coordinated,” Fisher says. “It was constant — every weekend and all the time. For several months, I was just not at home.” The morning of Sept. 11, Fisher arrived for work as usual, parking her car in a lot close to the Justice Department. When she heard reports on the radio of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center, her first thought was that her husband, Clint — then a U.S. Airways executive — was flying that morning. By the time Fisher reached her office, phones were ringing off the hook and people had gathered around televisions to see what was happening. Fisher and Bruce Swartz, another Criminal Division deputy, watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center on the television in Swartz’s office. As it became clear that the events were part of a coordinated attack, Fisher raced with other DOJ officials to the Federal Bureau of Investigation operations center and then evacuated for a secret location. Several hours passed before she reached her husband on the telephone and learned that he had landed safely. (Clint Fisher currently serves as director of external affairs for the new Transportation Security Administration. It is most often Clint Fisher, says his wife, who arrives home first to relieve the nanny.) Even when Fisher is not at the office, pager calls frequently intrude on her life. She recalls attending a 2001 Christmas party on the evening that potential bomber Richard Reid boarded a transatlantic flight bound for Miami, Fla., with plastic explosives hidden in his shoes. Passengers and crew members subdued Reid when he tried to ignite his shoes, and the plane was diverted to Boston. “I basically spent the evening talking on the phone in the bathroom and taking notes on a napkin,” she says. There have been interruptions this holiday season as well — the FBI issued a new shoe bomb warning Dec. 23 and put out an alert Dec. 29 on five Middle Eastern men with possible terrorist ties suspected of entering the country illegally. But over the past year, Fisher has become an expert in building cases against alleged terrorists. “After 9/11 there were days I felt I would have been a little more on the ball had I been a prosecutor before,” she says. “I had been on the defense side, so it’s not like criminal law was foreign to me, but there were definitely rules I didn’t know off the top of my head that prosecutors would have from the very beginning.” She adds: “Terrorism charges were new to a lot of people, so it’s been a learning experience for a lot of us.” With the collapse of Enron and a spate of corporate scandals driving down the economy, Fisher faces yet another challenge. Unlike the war on terrorism where Fisher had no previous experience, the crackdown on corporate criminals places her in an area where she already possesses expertise. “She brings extensive experience from private practice,” says Fraud Section chief Joshua Hochberg. “We discuss the priorities of the section, and she’s consulted on all major cases and major decisions.” The shift from all terrorism, all the time, also provides Fisher with a refreshing change. “I would still say I spend about 75 percent of my time on terrorism. It was probably 99 percent for a long period of time,” Fisher says. “Now that fraud is back on the hot burner, I’m trying to accomplish some of the goals I have for that section.” “It’s very hard to fit everything in time-wise,” she adds. “One thing that helps me is knowing that what I’m doing day to day is very important to my children’s future. To have that sense of public service at the end of the day is striking.”

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