The Corner

Law & the Courts

The Washington Lawyer Who, Like a Bad Penny, Always Turns Up

From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

The Washington Lawyer Who, Like a Bad Penny, Always Turns Up

Jamie Gorelick is now Jared Kushner’s personal lawyer, and her friends and neighbors are apparently cattily bashing her off-the-record to Washington Post reporters while insisting publicly they have no quarrel with her.

Matthew Continetti scoffs: “These are, after all, the same well schooled, affluent, smooth-talking men and women who erupt in outrage at the slightest suggestion that a lawyer might decline to represent an unsavory client. What does it say about them that Javanka’s attorney is held to a different standard than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s?”

Instead of worrying if Gorelick’s reputation will be sullied by associating with Kushner, I wonder if Kushner should fear his reputation will be sullied by associating with Gorelick. She’s like the Forrest Gump of American misfortune in the past three decades; she keeps showing up right before or right after things go terribly, terribly wrong.

Start at the Department of Justice in the mid-1990s. In 1993, Mary Lawton, counsel for intelligence policy and head of the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, passed away, leaving a large gap in the decision-making at DOJ; Lawton and her staff set the standards for sharing information between the intelligence community and law enforcement. Janet Reno put Gorelick in charge of settling the ensuring dispute and putting together new rules.

Gorelick’s memo suggested written regulations, which were formally adopted in the 1995 Procedures. According to Gorelick, her procedures “exceeded the requirements of FISA and then-existing federal case law” in regulating information sharing.

The 1995 Procedures turned the “primary purpose” standard into written Justice Department policy and ultimately had the effect of limiting the coordination between intelligence and criminal officials who wanted to avoid the appearance that a foreign intelligence investigation was becoming a criminal investigation. By their own terms, the 1995 Procedures did not totally ban the sharing of information between criminal and intelligence officials; they simply heavily regulated that communication. However, the procedures for passing information “over the wall”—the slang phrase for transferring information between intelligence and criminal officials— were often so burdensome or complicated that officials simply chose not to share information.

You may recall Gorelick serving on the 9/11 Commission, and a particularly dramatic moment as then-Attorney General John Ashcroft tore into the “snarled web of requirements, restrictions and regulations … prevented decisive action by our men and women in the field.” Referring to the 1995 document that firmly established the scope of the metaphorical wall, Ashcroft testified, “full disclosure compels me to inform you that the author of this memorandum is a member of the commission.”

Gorelick and her allies contended that was scapegoating, but she eventually chose to recuse herself from the panel’s discussion of her own decisions. She did contend publicly that “the wall” had existed before her memo. But if it’s unfair to say she created the wall, she enhanced the foundation and height and it’s indisputable that she set the standard that was in place in the years leading up to 9/11.

From DOJ, Gorelick went on to become Vice Chairman of Fannie Mae, and stayed there six years. She was paid $26 million, but there were some significant problems during those years.

Fannie Mae employees falsified signatures on accounting transactions that helped the company meet earnings targets for 1998, a “manipulation” that triggered multimillion-dollar bonuses for top executives, a federal regulator said yesterday… In 1998, Gorelick was paid a $779,625 bonus.

By 2006, federal regulators concluded “financial results at Fannie Mae, the nation’s largest buyer of mortgages, were ‘illusions deliberately and systematically’ created by its top executives in an $11 billion accounting scandal.”

By 2000, she announced that Fannie Mae would be expanding into the exciting new lending and investment realm of Community Reinvestment Act loans, declaring, “We want your CRA loans because they help us meet our housing goals.

From 2001-2007, Fannie and Freddie bought roughly half of all CRA home loans, most carrying subprime features. The taxpayer bailout for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac added up to $187 billion.

Some would give Gorelick grief for representing Duke University in the infamous lacrosse player case or BP oil company after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but this is pretty much what a super-lawyer does. Controversial, publicly-vilified institutions with deep pockets are the clients who need (and can afford!) the services of a lawyer like her the most.

No, what’s more ironic and potentially bothersome is that Gorelick is pretty much the living embodiment of everything that Donald Trump went to Washington to oppose, remove, and fix. And now . . . she’s on the team, metaphorically.

The Latest