• Ex-Vermonter eyed for U.S. AG
     | August 29,2007

    MONTPELIER A former resident of the state, attorney George Terwilliger, is being mentioned as a candidate to fill the post left behind by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

    Terwilliger was once the U.S. Attorney for Vermont and is now a partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm White & Case. He declined to comment on whether he's under consideration.

    His name appeared this week on speculative lists published in the media, including an Associated Press story Tuesday that also included names such as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and others.

    Terwilliger was U.S. attorney in Vermont before becoming U.S. deputy attorney general during the administration of the first President George Bush. Terwilliger had a long history in Vermont serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in the state before becoming U.S. attorney.

    He was also a campaign attorney for the current president, including during the controversial ballot recounting in Florida. As a private attorney, Terwilliger specializes in representing companies, institutions and individuals, including during government investigations, according to his firm's Web site.

    Terwilliger's name adds another Vermont twist to the drama in Washington. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has been deeply involved in the Justice Department inquiry that led to the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was unavailable for comment Tuesday, according to his staff. Leahy did say in an interview with National Public Radio that he would not make any public statements about possible candidates for the top law enforcement post in the country.

    "I am not ruling anybody in or out," Leahy said. He did add in that interview, however, that President George Bush should ask lawmakers of both parties including himself their opinion before putting forward possible candidates to replace Gonzales.

    "I would hope the president would sit down with the Republican and Democratic leadership of the Senate, realize the Constitution says advise and consent and seek the advice of the people in the Senate leadership in both parties before he seeks our consent," said Leahy, who will likely have a central role in determining whether Bush's proposed replacement meets with approval or scorn from members of the Senate.

    He has not been asked by the White House about one possible candidate, Chertoff, Leahy said on National Public Radio.

    "My advice hasn't been asked on that," he said from Vermont, where he is staying during the Senate's summer recess. Chertoff, a former assistant attorney general and federal judge, has faced his own critics who have called for his resignation from his current post for his department's handling of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina aftermath.

    It was something Leahy alluded to on National Public Radio.

    "We are talking about the person who was in charge of the recovery effort of Hurricane Katrina," he said.

    Chertoff and Terwilliger are far from alone in having their names mentioned as possible replacements after Gonzales' abrupt departure. But whomever Bush chooses as the candidate for the job may have to get through a difficult and contentious confirmation process before taking over the job, given the ongoing investigations into the U.S. Department of Justice lead by Leahy's committee, including inquiries into the alleged improper firing of U.S. attorneys for political reasons.

    Filling his job could lead to a new standoff between White House Republicans and the Democratic-led Congress, experts said, even as names of possible successors began to surface.

    "Selecting a successor to Gonzales will be a challenge because the Senate is unlikely to confirm anyone as aggressive as Gonzales in the defense of executive power and the practice of secrecy," said Peter Shane, professor at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

    But the White House is unlikely to let Congress dictate who gets the job.

    Someone like former Sen. Jack Danforth, R-Mo., for example, "might be too liberal for the base," said Hunter College political scientist Kenneth Sherrill, referring to Republican conservatives who make up President Bush's core supporters.

    A more intriguing pick, Sherrill said, would be Sen. Joe Lieberman, the hawkish Connecticut Democrat whose nomination would allow his state's Republican governor to appoint his replacement wresting control of the Senate from Democrats to a tie between the two parties.

    For now, Solicitor General Paul Clement will head the Justice Department until a replacement is found. Among the other possible successors whose names were floated Monday:

  • Chertoff, a former assistant attorney general and federal judge who commands the legal expertise that Gonzales lacked. However, Chertoff faced calls for his own resignation after Homeland Security's sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

  • Hatch, R-Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee for a decade before relinquishing that standing in 2005. In April, Hatch said "it would be really tough for me to get confirmed" but that "I would serve this country in any way I could."

  • Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, a conservative former U.S. attorney, congressman, Drug Enforcement Administration chief and border security director at the Homeland Security Department. Hutchinson could run afoul of Democrats for his role in the impeachment of former President Clinton.

  • Acting Deputy Attorney General Craig Morford, a 20-year federal prosecutor. Morford sent former Rep. Jim Traficant, D-Ohio, to jail and recommended that a federal judge toss out verdicts against two defendants in the nation's first major post-9/11 terrorism case after finding the Justice Department failed to turn over documents to defense lawyers.

  • Former Solicitor General Ted Olson, a courtly conservative whose wife, Barbara, was killed in the Sept. 11 flight that crashed into the Pentagon.

  • Former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, general counsel at Pepsi Co.

  • Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey, general counsel at Lockheed Martin Co. He is considered a long shot after defying the White House's orders to continue a domestic spying program.

  • 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge William Wilkins, a South Carolina jurist who has defended the Bush administration's treatment of enemy combatants and reinstated a libel lawsuit against The New York Times over opinion columns linking a former Army scientist to the 2001 anthrax killings.
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