Mar 19, 2014 Of the IRS head who withstood Nixon, insider Robert Strauss & 2 Washingtons
One reason I chose to attend George Washington law school was its Washington, D.C., location. I had an amorphous idea of getting a chance to deal with the federal government and private practice, not in a revolving door way that helps many former government employees make larger amounts of cash later on in the private sector, but out of an interest in the federal government and a bigger interest in being my own boss (outside of government, of course).
As it turned out, I had a summer stint with a federal bank regulator (the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, later renamed the Office of Thrift Supervision) during my first law school summer, joined a law firm heavily involved with federal regulatory and federal litigation work, then joined the Maryland Public Defender’s Office, next returned to private practice, and ultimately became my own boss with the central federal government’s close proximity usually having little to do with my law practice except for when I defended numerous anti-globalization demonstrators in 2000 and argued in federal trial court on the unconstitutionality of the USFSPA law that allows veterans’ retirement pay to be considered as marital property in divorce court.
Washington, D.C., has its central government face and its small city face. On their first arrival here, plenty of foreign diplomats probably wonder how such a powerful government is situated in such a small-seeming town. I wondered the same thing myself.
The small town feel and powerful central government seat overlapped for me in particular with my former neighbor the late Adrienne Barth. Adrienne and I were on the local American Civil Liberties Union board together when we lived just four blocks apart, with me often driving her home from our monthly ACLU board meetings in the early 1990’s. Her late husband Alan was on the Washington Post’s editorial staff when Woodward and Bernstein were breaking the Watergate story, and Adrienne related how those at the Post were taking a risk not knowing whether all their digging would turn up the story they were after, which the Post found, and then some.
Adrienne’s home was the only place that I ever experienced such a gathering of consummate Washington players. She invited me to her annual eggnog party during the three years we were on the ACLU board together, where I spoke with the likes of Daniel Schorr, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (with her just a hello before she moved on), Chuck Ruff (Bill Clinton’s later defender at his impeachment hearing, among his other hats), local radio commentator Mark Plotkin, a Brookings Institution analyst, her Baltimore television reporter son and her daughter who was then a judge in Pennsylvania. I always promised myself that I would not get sucked into being starstruck by those in the role of power fame, and I have been good at keeping that promise except when meeting the late Justice Bill Brennan in 1994 and talking with Daniel Schorr.
Then we come to Richard Nixon. He was the first person in federal power whom I saw on my first visit to Washington, D.C. Within an hour of my family’s arrival in April 1974 at the Washington, D.C., Hilton (I think it is the same hotel and entrance where Reagan was entering where he got shot), Nixon was arriving for a meeting or press conference. He resigned four months later.
This month, two key federal government players passed away. The first is Randall Thrower, whose legal career included an interesting mix of capital murder defense and being a tax law expert. He stood against using the Internal Revenue Service, when he was its head, to target Nixon’s foes. Insodoing, he was tossed from the IRS during a phone call with John Erlichman. He agreed to stay at the IRS until his replacement started. Nixon said: "I want to be sure [my next IRS head] is a ruthless son of a bitch" going after Nixon’s enemies, not allies. That well underlined Nixon’s own ruthlessness.
The second is Robert Strauss, who was adept at being both a champion of the Democratic party, apparently instrumental in getting Jimmy Carter elected, which he was unable to reproduce in 1980; and in being sought after for counsel and assistance from Ronald Reagan and George Bush I, as well. In 1945 he co-founded in Texas a law firm named Akin, Gump, Strauss, et al., which I would have given my left arm, at the time I was in law school, to join, or to join several other large law firms that included brilliant lawyers and great pro bono programs, of course requiring very long hours of work each week to justify their large pay. However, had I gotten and kept such a job, would I have had the gumption ultimately to leave that behind to become a public defender lawyer and then my own boss?
I look up to Thrower for having stood up to Nixon, but wish he had spoken up before Nixon left office about his administration’s efforts to turn the IRS against Nixon’s opponents. Robert Strauss apparently was often a great negotiator, both as a private lawyer and as a federal government official, while apparently not standing firmly on political ideology. They are from an era becoming bygone.