Let's discuss Solictor General (Acting-AG) Paul Clement

When the resignation of Alberto Gonzales takes effect, Solicitor General Paul Clement will be the senior Justice Department official and the acting Attorney General. I really don’t know too much about him.

I know that he is the person to whom the congressional calls for an independent prosecutor on the US Attorney scandal have been addressed, Gonzales having recused himself. The sense I get is that he is fairly well-respected and, to the extent that is possible in this administration, independent of the White House.

So, what do people think of Paul Clement? How do we think his leadership of the Justice Department will be, particularly in light of the cloud hanging over its head?

Although others closer to the White House, including Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff have been discussed as possible successors to Gonzales, does Clement have a chance to get the job outright, either as Bush’s initial nominee or after others have struck out?

I don’t know that much about Clement except that he’s generally well thought-of.

But whomever gets the nomination (and I doubt it’ll be Chertoff) is looking at a couple of nasty things:

  1. A possibly brutal questioning.
  2. Only 17 or so months in office before the new President tosses him out.

Not a fun time.

From Salon:

Not surprisingly, these questions have remained unanswered.

Attention has been overly focused on the topmost job at Miniluv, perhaps. The resignations over the last few months:

Clement is already the only one there minding the store.

He clerked for Scalia, worked for Ashcroft, and filed briefs with the Supreme Court on behalf of Bush in Bush v. Gore. Has worked in the Administration since 2001. Loyal Bushie.

James Comey was mentioned in another thread, and would be my pick, as he has shown a lot of independence from the administration. Probably not likely for that reason, though.

A time article on possible successors to Gonzales has this to say about Clement:

Clement, who has argued more 40 cases before the Supreme Court, is well liked by lawyers both inside and outside the Justice Department. Neal Katyal, a Georgetown Law professor who argued in front of the Supreme Court against Clement in the case of Osama bin Laden’s driver Salim Ahmed Hamdan, describes Clement as “extremely bright, quite conservative and quite fair.” Adds Katyal: “One of the most intimidating things about arguing against him is he stands up at the podium with no notes.”

What Clement could bring to the job that Gonzales lacked is political acumen. Early in his career, Clement served as a senior staff member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, experience that could serve him well as he takes over a department that has had a rocky recent relationship with Congress. It’s possible that Bush would leave Clement in office for the remainder of his term. The President chose pointed compliments when he announced Clement would be stepping in for Gonzales. “Paul has a reputation of fairness,” said Bush, “and earned the respect and confidence of the entire Justice Department.”

I think that if Clement is nominated for the AG position, he will have the great advantage of being the incumbent, at least in an acting capacity. If they confirm him, it will do no more harm than leaving him to be acting AG (and will avoid the chance of a more noxious choice), and if they reject him, he will still be acting AG.

Given what we’ve seen over the last 6 years it’s not unreasonable to expect anyone except someone willing to do Bush’s bidding.

Someone has to run the DoJ, and Clement is the best we’re likely to get before January 2009.