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Interim AG has friends on left, right

Paul Clement, who will serve as interim attorney general, is a meticulous, affable conservative with friends across the political spectrum.[!]
Paul Clement
Paul Clement, pictured, was asked by President Bush to head the Justice Department until a new attorney general is confirmed by the Senate.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Paul Clement, who will serve as interim attorney general, is a meticulous, affable conservative with friends across the political spectrum.

As solicitor general, Clement holds the fourth-ranking position at the Justice Department. He was asked by President Bush to head the agency until a new attorney general is nominated, then confirmed by the Senate.

With the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, as well as earlier departures of the next two officials in line, Clement is the Justice Department’s highest-ranking official who has been confirmed by the Senate.

In his current post, Clement is the administration’s top lawyer at the Supreme Court. He regularly argues the most important cases that come before the court, defending Bush’s anti-terrorism program as well as federal laws imposing limits on abortion and campaign fundraising.

Clement, 41, has worked for former Attorney General John Ashcroft and Justice Antonin Scalia, stalwarts of the right in American politics and law. He once belonged to the conservative Federalist Society and continues to speak often at its events.

Yet liberal Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin has been among Clement’s biggest boosters, principally because of Clement’s Supreme Court defense of the landmark campaign finance law that Feingold co-authored. Clement also comes from Wisconsin.

Historic low-profile role
Solicitor generals for the most part have low profiles in the lief of any administration. One of history’s great exceptions to that rule was Robert Bork.

At the height of the Watergate scandal, then-Solictor General Bork did what his two superiors would not do — and obeyed President Nixon’s order to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox in 1973.

Clement is not facing a similar crisis, although he has been asked by senators to order an independent investigation of aspects of Gonzales’ tenure. So far, he has not publicly answered that request.

Prior to serving as solicitor general, Clement was the deputy to his predecessor in the post, Theodore Olson. He also worked for Ashcroft, then a Missouri senator, and filed supporting briefs with the Supreme Court on behalf of Bush in the dispute over the 2000 presidential election.

He earlier clerked for Scalia and Judge Lawrence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Clement quit the Federalist Society when he joined the Bush administration in 2001.