You’ve worked in a number of other male-dominated settings, such as the Department of Defense. Can you describe those experiences?
My gender was definitely noticed in every job that I was in, in every setting that I’ve been in. I think that’s true for all women lawyers and women professionals. I’ve chosen to work in very male-dominated areas, like defense and national security, like law enforcement, like litigation, like corporate boards, because I find them interesting. Again, you have to have a sense of humor. I knew that I had arrived at the Pentagon when my requests started to be answered, “Yes, sir.” The automatic response to authority in the military environment was “Yes, sir.” The first time someone said “Yes, sir,” I knew they were saluting what I wanted them to do. It was a completely spontaneous response.
How do you build a case for a client like BP that’s up against a negative public perception?
I’ve been doing this exact thing since 1975. You have to enjoy long odds. You have to enjoy trying to right the system, in that the government and Congress, the executive branch, the press have enormous power to bring criticism to bear and to sue, to indict—and often the case is overstated. The obligation of someone representing an individual or a company in those circumstances is to make sure that the other side of the argument is heard and that the result is fair. I enjoy that.
Attorney general Eric Holder is somebody who you’ve worked with, and now you’re on opposite sides of the Justice Department’s actions against BP. What’s that like?
The attorney general was US Attorney when I was deputy attorney general, and we’ve been very good friends ever since. It’s been purely professional. We like and respect each other. We see each other all the time. I know his deputy and his associate attorney general from other lives. They expect me to do my job. I expect them to do their job, but all of our communications are characterized by mutual respect.
Can you talk about your time on the 9/11 Commission?
That was the deepest, broadest look at the workings of the US government ever. It may never be repeated. We had 18 months to look across government and how it addressed a challenge, so I learned a lot substantively. We also, though appointed by a process that was highly partisan, came together unanimously around our report. If I never have another bit of government service, I’ll be satisfied by the pieces of service that I’ve had, including that one.
Was there a particularly challenging moment of your time on the commission?
The commission felt that it needed access to the presidential daily briefs, which are among the most protected pieces of information within our government. These are reports that go to the President and very few other advisers. The White House, for understandable reasons, didn’t want to give us access to them, and we felt we couldn’t make a report without that access. Brokering that access was critical then to the success of the commission’s work. We did that by offering to have the daily briefs reviewed by me and Phil Zelikow, the executive director of the commission. We had to, in essence, do this review for the entire commission and explain to the commission what we had seen while not taking any notes out of the room in which we had seen them. It was very challenging and, I think, critical to our success.
What’s next for you? Would you rule out another government position?
I’m not particularly hungry to go into the government. Unlike most Democrats, my last government service ended in 2005 with the 9/11 Commission, so I was in essence in public service through a Republican administration. And I’m enjoying private practice a lot. I have wonderful colleagues. I’ve got great cases. I have tremendous autonomy, superb support, and it’d be hard to imagine a more interesting job than the one I have. I’ve never tried to predict what I’m going to do next, but my plan is to be in private practice.
Subscribe to Washingtonian
Follow Washingtonian on Twitter
More>> Capital Comment Blog | News & Politics | Party Photos