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Meet the DC Lawyer Helping Hillary Clinton Pick a Running Mate

The likely nominee. Photograph by Flickr user Gage Skidmore.

Unlike her probable opponent Donald Trump, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a long list of suitors to join her ticket as she becomes the Democratic Party’s nominee for President. Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Tim Kaine of Virginia have all been mentioned as potential vice-presidential candidates, as have cabinet officials like Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.

But the Clinton campaign needs someone to research and review the possible running mates, and for that task, the New York Times reports, Clinton has recruited James Hamilton, a partner at the law firm Morgan Lewis. Besides being a veteran DC attorney, Hamilton is go-to guy for Democratic nominees in search of a vice-presidential pick: He oversaw the search in 2000 that led to Al Gore picking Joe Lieberman, and the 2004 process that paired John Kerry with John Edwards. In 2008, he, Eric Holder, and Caroline Kennedy ran the process that got Barack Obama to pick Joe Biden.

Based on reports of his previous vice-presidential vets, anyone hoping to run with Clinton should be prepared to have their entire lives picked apart down to the tiniest moment. For the 2000 search that produced Lieberman, Hamilton had five to seven teams reporting to him. The vetters, the Times reported then, “gathered boxes of records from each of the finalists: every vote ever cast, every press release ever issued, transcripts of speeches, videotapes of political debates, books they have written, school transcripts, a lifetime of financial and medical records.”

Of Hamilton, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher simply said at the time, “He is very discreet.”

Hamilton, who did not respond to a request for an interview, is marginally less loquacious than his Republican counterpart, A.B. Culvahouse, Jr., who helped John McCain choose Sarah Palin in 2008, and is now providing his running-mate-vetting services to Trump.

Beyond his running-mate vetting chops, Hamilton’s career includes several cases where discretion, or a lack thereof, was crucial. He represented the late columnist Robert Novak in the investigation of Novak’s outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA Agent. During the Clinton Administration, he represented Vince Foster in the investigation into White House travel expenditures. After Foster committed suicide, Hamilton won a Supreme Court decision ruling that attorney-client privilege continues even after the client’s death.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.