Monday, September 5, 2005

When Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, one of the key Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, faced a re-election fight against an unknown businessman in 1994, he turned to a highly trusted private lawyer to dig up dirt on his opponent.

Now, James Flug has rejoined Mr. Kennedy’s staff and will advise him during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge John G. Roberts Jr.

“Jim Flug is the 8,000-pound gorilla who will be driving this thing,” said Makan Delrahim, former Judiciary Committee staff director for Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.

He is “very personable, experienced and weathered in nominations fights,” added Mr. Delrahim. “He knows how to build coalitions, how to ask the probing questions and he knows how to staff somebody like Ted Kennedy.”

Conservatives have noted Mr. Flug’s role.

“It is hard to fathom Mr. Flug coming back to Capitol Hill after 30 years of private practice for anything other than a bitterly tough confirmation fight,” Ed Meese of the Heritage Foundation, Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society and Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice warned in a joint statement.

Mr. Flug, who did not respond to e-mail, worked for Mr. Kennedy during the defeat of Nixon Supreme Court nominees Clement Haynesworth and G. Harold Carswell. After leaving Mr. Kennedy’s staff for private practice, Mr. Flug rejoined the Kennedy staff two years ago.

But his involvement in Mr. Kennedy’s 1994 campaign against Mitt Romney, who is now state governor, caused a stir when the Boston Globe revealed that the campaign had paid Mr. Flug to hire the Investigative Group Inc., the firm run by former Watergate investigator Terry Lenzner, to dig through Mr. Romney’s background.

Mr. Flug isn’t the only operative brought back for Supreme Court vacancy fights. Michael O’Neill, former nominations counsel to Mr. Hatch, was hired earlier this year to be chief counsel to Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

A professor at George Mason University, Mr. O’Neill clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission from 1999 to 2005. Many Republican judiciary staffers believe Mr. Specter hired Mr. O’Neill to help assuage conservatives that he was committed to ensuring confirmation of President Bush’s judicial nominees.

Mr. O’Neill’s Democrat counterpart on the committee is Bruce Cohen, chief counsel for Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and ranking minority member of the committee. Mr. Cohen, who joined Mr. Leahy’s staff in 1993, was hired by Mr. Specter to be his counsel on the Judiciary Committee in 1981.

One of the most energetic staffers behind the scenes of the confirmation fight will be Don Stewart, the relentless spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. Mr. Stewart, a former intelligence analyst in the Army, joined Mr. Cornyn after he was first elected in 2002.

Last week, the Hill publication National Journal predicted that Mr. Cornyn would be one of Judge Roberts’ “most staunch and resolute” defenders.

“Cornyn, a savvy freshman who is closely allied with the White House, will vie for the mantle of the quickest, most relentless defender of the nominee,” Kirk Victor wrote. “Cornyn’s aggressive press shop has established a rapid-response role in which it immediately challenges every charge leveled by Democratic critics against the nominee.”

As Mr. Cornyn likes to say: “A charge unrebutted is too often a charge believed.”

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