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When former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, 72, took a call in his Washington, D.C., office from CBS News president Andrew Heyward last September, he did not suspect he would soon be dropping everything for three months to work on a thankless, high-visibility corporate investigation. Along with former Associated Press president Louis Boccardi, Thornburgh, of counsel at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham, was asked to determine whether Dan Rather and the staff of “60 Minutes Wednesday” violated journalistic and company standards in rushing to broadcast a report questioning aspects of President George Bush’s service with the Texas Air National Guard more than three decades earlier. But it was just another interesting mountain to climb for the unflappable Thornburgh — who faced down nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island (as Pennsylvania governor), argued before the U.S. Supreme Court (as U.S. attorney general from 1988 to 1991), and served as undersecretary general to the United Nations, among other daunting challenges. ALM correspondent Tony Mauro sat down with Thornburgh to discuss the CBS probe and his still-active practice and life. Q: The CBS investigation wasn’t the first of that type you’ve undertaken. What were the others? A: The most prominent of those has been working with The World Bank Group on the problem of official corruption with their programs. I made a recommendation to establish a new office, which is up and running, designed to deal with corruption in the $25 billion they pump out into development loans and grants. The second was in the corporate governance area — my appointment as court-appointed examiner in the WorldCom Inc. bankruptcy proceedings, which finished up just about a year ago. Q: When the CBS call came, did you hesitate? Did you think, “Oh, boy, from the frying pan to the fire”? A: No, it seemed like a worthwhile challenge, so long as there were no restrictions on our inquiry, and we were free to go where the evidence led, so to speak. [He points to his 2003 autobiography, titled "Where the Evidence Leads."] As it turned out, that was accurate. Q: How is that guaranteed? A: It was an understanding, and fortunately, it never became an issue. They were totally forthcoming and cooperative. And they were kind enough to adopt our recommendations. Q: How did you “staff up” for a fast-track project like that? A: First Lou and I engaged the firm as counsel, and it was headed up by Michael Missal and Lawrence Lanpher the same as the WorldCom investigation. … We had a group of eight to 10 lawyers responsible for the pick-and-shovel work. Lou and I together sat in on about 85 percent of the interviews. Q: I know from personal experience that journalists are among the most difficult people to interview. How was that part of it? A: Well, it was sensitive at the outset, because we stated we wanted everything, and journalists are understandably very reluctant to surrender things for fear of compromising sources. But we got that type of cooperation, hopefully because we earned the trust of the people we were interviewing. Q: Did you have a budget? A: We just billed it at our standard rate, with a discount for the public service aspect of it. Q: How much did CBS pay? A: I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know. At this point I think they’re still counting it up. Q: How much time did it take? A: A little over three months-flat out. We dropped everything else, as much as we could. Q: You’ve been part of the tort reform debate for a long time. How do you see that shaping up during the second Bush term? A: I think there’s a very good prospect, given the president’s track record, and the majorities in both houses. Q: Does it look different now that you are in private practice? A: No, I have the same concerns. Look, I’m not in the business of bashing trial lawyers. I concentrate on fine-tuning the system. We’ve got the best civil justice system in the world. Q: What one reform would you like to see most of all? A: To get the whole matter of damages under control. It’s been a very productive decade, when you see the acting in the State Farm case, though some would argue they created more confusion. But the states are active on this too. I did work in Mississippi, with Haley Barbour, and they turned the state from a judicial hellhole into a model of civil justice reform. Q: What has been your take on the Gonzales nomination, and the view that attorneys general should not be as close to their presidents as Alberto Gonzales is? A: The fact that he was White House counsel is not a disqualifier, any more than the fact that Bill Smith was President [Ronald] Reagan’s personal attorney and Bobby Kennedy was the president’s brother. The landscape is dotted with all kinds of potential disqualifiers that never came to fruition. Q: So what do you think of Alberto Gonzales? A: He’s an admirable lawyer. He’s loyal to the president, and thank heavens. It’s the last place you’d want someone who isn’t. Q: Before we finish, I can’t resist asking you about your interview with HBO comic Ali G. I couldn’t watch. It looked painful. A: It was actually fun, and it’s interesting. All my friends over 35 say, “How did he get you to do that?” All my friends under 35 say, “Boy, you were great.” Q: How did he get you to do it? A: I didn’t have a clue that it was happening. The BBC called and said they were doing a program on politics and the law, and I walk in, and here’s this guy in a yellow jumpsuit. I thought he was some technician or something. He is a funny man. Q: Did you fire somebody for not investigating it enough to keep you from doing the interview? A: Who am I going to fire? It was me.

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