Amid the furor over controversies regarding Cabinet-nominee tax problems and the seismic battle over a nearly trillion-dollar economic rescue bill, President Obama made a little-noticed appointment that is now generating intrigue.
White House counsel research director. Though she is inside one of the most powerful legal offices in the land, Miss Daly holds no law degree and doesn’t list any legal training on her resume.
Her sole experience has been as an opposition researcher for Democratic political campaigns: She helped dig up dirt on rivals, or on her own nominee to prepare for attacks.
The addition to White House counsel Greg Craig’s staff has alarmed some Republicans, who consider it a politicization of the office, and has irritated others who say that Democratic lawmakers who railed against Republican opposition researchers in legal positions in the past are now silent.
“Daly does not have the qualifications to be holding a significant position in the White House counsel’s office,” said Mark Levin, a conservative lawyer and radio-show host who worked in the Reagan White House and as chief of staff for Attorney General Edwin Meese.
“Her only qualification is that she knows how to dig up dirt on other people,” he said.
A number of conservative and liberal lawyers and operatives confirmed that it is unusual for someone with Miss Daly’s background to be working in the White House counsel’s office, though some Clinton-era lawyers said that administration had non-lawyers working in the office.
The White House insists Miss Daly’s work will be limited to legal research, like that of a paralegal, and won’t stray into political muckraking.
“Shauna will be performing legal research in support of a team of lawyers doing traditional legal work at the White House,” said White House spokesman Ben LaBolt.
But even some Democrats said there is reason to be cautious about the presence of a political-opposition researcher inside a White House legal office that is supposed to be free of partisan influence.
“It is important for her to understand this is a new role, and if she ever feels there are politics creeping into her job, she should set up strong barriers to stop that,” said Faiz Shakir, research director at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank run by former Clinton administration Chief of Staff John Podesta.
Opposition researchers often use skills honed on a campaign to reveal damaging information about political opponents to reporters. But the move to the counsel’s office requires Miss Daly to change her modus operandi dramatically.
“That information stays in-house, and all the information is for the president’s counsel,” Mr. Shakir said. “Part of it is not talking to the press. That’s an important part. It’s also making sure your prior relationships understand you now have a new function and cannot operate with them in a way you have prior.”
On the Obama campaign, Miss Daly specialized in preparing for political attacks against Mr. Obama.
Thus, one scenario in which her skills would be useful to the White House would involve setting up a “murder board operation,” in which political nominees are subjected to simulated political attacks in order to prepare for the real thing.