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Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama's DOJ Transition Plan

For more than a month, a squad of lawyers has been gathering for the first Justice Department transition in the post-9/11 world. Now that their candidate has won, they're at the gates -- or rather, the 20-foot-high aluminum doors of Main Justice -- waiting for President-elect Barack Obama and President George W. Bush to finalize the rules for information-sharing and access during the transition.

The Justice Department calls its own preparation unprecedented in modern times. Under a 2004 law, the department has been vetting Obama's transition team for security clearances for more than two months. And since at least July, the department has been laying the groundwork for a new administration. Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed his chief of staff, Brian Benczkowski, and Lee Lofthus, the assistant attorney general for administration, to coordinate the transition.

Obama has tapped Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr's David Ogden, the assistant attorney general for the Civil Division under President Bill Clinton, to lead the transition team. His deputy, Thomas Perrelli, managing partner of Jenner & Block's Washington office, is another Clinton administration alum. Perrelli worked under Ogden in the Civil Division as deputy assistant attorney general, supervising the Federal Programs Branch.

The transition will be twice as long as the last one and -- it's hoped -- at least twice as disciplined as the one before that. Obama's first task, the selection of the next attorney general, is likely to be fraught with the memories of Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, whose botched nominations got Clinton's Justice Department off to a wobbly start.

The most-discussed candidate for the top spot is still Covington & Burling's Eric Holder Jr., one of Obama's top campaign advisers. But when Legal Times asked Holder in June whether he'd accept the job if offered, he said: "That ain't gonna happen." (It's unclear whether he was referring to the overture or his response were an overture to be made.)

Others mentioned are Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, an early Obama supporter who is now a member of his transition advisory board, and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who was reportedly on the short list for vice president. Newsweek reports that Charles Ogletree, a Harvard Law School professor who mentored Obama, is also in the running.

A dark horse: Judge Merrick Garland, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, who served as principal associate deputy attorney general under Clinton.

Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]

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