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Twenty-eight months after he was confirmed as the U.S. Justice Department’s deputy attorney general, Larry D. Thompson says that now is “the appropriate time for me to leave.” Thompson, 58, called it “an interlude” and added, “I don’t know how long it will last.” His short-term plans are to teach at the University of Georgia law school and do research at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. He ruled out pursuing a federal judgeship in Atlanta that will open in April 2004 when U.S. District Judge J. Owen Forrester takes senior status. “I will not pursue that,” Thompson said. “I want to have an interlude. I want to work on life.” Would anything draw him back to Washington? “I can’t speculate on that,” he said in a telephone interview on Monday. When Thompson was nominated as U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft’s second in command in early 2001, his name was mentioned as a possible Republican candidate to fill the spot of a retiring U.S. Supreme Court justice. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor have been mentioned as justices who are contemplating retirement. Asked whether he had considered a Supreme Court nomination, Thompson replied, “I just can’t speculate on those kinds of things. The things I’m going to be concerned about doing are the kinds of things I have always wanted to do — doing a better job at working on life.” The deputy attorney general said he is leaving the Justice Department at the end of this month because, “I’m just tired — physically, mentally, emotionally tired and drained.” His resignation is effective at the end of August. Thompson said that taking a sabbatical from work is not a new idea for him. While still a partner at King & Spalding before President Bush nominated him to the Justice Department post, Thompson said he had considered taking a break in early 2001 from his practice. He also said he began considering a break from the intensity of his Justice Department post several months ago. Thompson was the first, and most highly ranked, of a string of Georgians, most of them from Atlanta, who were drawn to Washington after the 2000 presidential election. Among them was Thompson’s former aide, Christopher A. Wray, who is awaiting confirmation as assistant attorney general in charge of the department’s criminal division. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED? Thompson has served as deputy attorney general through one of this country’s most historically grim eras — one that includes the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, and a spate of high-level corporate scandals. Thompson said that while “there is really never any perfect time” to leave, “I think we have accomplished a lot of the things I wanted personally to get done” at Justice. Efforts to prevent and disrupt terrorist attacks on the United States and American citizens “are well in hand and are successful,” he said, “not withstanding the fact that we have continuing threats that we have to face and deal with.” He continued, “We have, along with the hard work of a number of career prosecutors, invested in trying to help restore our financial markets by sending a clear message to America that corporate criminals will be brought to justice.” Ashcroft appointed Thompson as head of the DOJ’s Corporate Fraud Task Force. Thompson also counts among his achievements the institution of “a successful attorney diversity effort” to expand minority hiring of Justice Department attorneys. And, he said, the department, under his guidance, has refocused its drug enforcement efforts on both the supply and demand sides. He counts among his proudest accomplishments “running the day-to-day operations of the Department of Justice in a way that it has served the attorney general and the president.” Even so, he views the department’s drug enforcement efforts as one area in which he wishes he could have done more. “We have not ignored it,” he said. “We’ve given a great deal of attention to it. But these have been historic times, and, clearly, the effort to fight terrorism and then the effort to react to a spate of corporate scandals we faced really has been all consuming for us. I think illegal drug use is still a very serious crime and social problem in this country.” GEORGIA ON HIS MIND Thompson said that during his tenure in Washington, he never truly left Georgia. His home and his wife remain there. In Washington, he said, “I rented a fully furnished apartment, but I never really left Atlanta.” Thompson said that he intends to join the Brookings Institution in Washington but will commute from Atlanta. He hasn’t decided what kind of research he would like to pursue while there. But, he said, topics of interest include terrorism, drug enforcement, corporate governance and violent crime, “especially as it relates to the low-income and minority communities.” He also said he intends to do some pro bono legal work in Georgia but has not yet “zeroed in” on any particular organization. Thompson said he also intends to resume teaching at UGA where, while at King & Spalding, he was an adjunct professor and taught a course on corporate criminal investigations. While he remains a government official, he won’t discuss whether he has plans to return to King & Spalding. “I can say this,” he said. “People at K&S are my dear friends, as are a number of lawyers in Atlanta. With my former partners and associates at King & Spalding, we’ve gone through a lot together — births of children, deaths of parents.” On Monday, Brookings spokesman Colin Johnson said that Thompson will be a senior fellow who will work in the think tank’s economic studies and government studies programs. As for the exact nature of Thompson’s research, Johnson said, “We’re still working on fleshing that out. We know one of the things he has worked on within the DOJ and expect will be a large part of his work here is looking at corporate accountability issues. … We are delighted with his decision to come to Brookings.”

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