This story was originally published on Sunday July 14, 2002
John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control, caused a stir in May by accusing the Cuban government of transferring bioweapons technology to rogue nations. Nineteen months ago, he caused a different stir — bursting into a Tallahassee library on behalf of the Bush-Cheney campaign to stop a recount of Miami-Dade County ballots.
Matt Schlapp, a former congressional aide, is currently White House special assistant to the president and deputy director of political affairs. In November 2000, he was part of the supposedly spontaneous window-pounding protest at Miami-Dade County Hall that brought to an end the first recount of Miami-Dade ballots.
Sue Cobb, a Coral Gables developer, today is the U.S. ambassador to Jamaica. Twenty months ago, the generous Republican donor volunteered her legal skills to the Bush-Cheney campaign — working as part of the legal team that contested recounts in Miami-Dade.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Although they now serve President George W. Bush in sharply different roles, the three share a common experience. They are among more than 50 political appointees found by The Herald to have served as troops in the frantic Florida recount battle that followed the Nov. 7, 2000 election.Political patronage has long been a reward for campaign loyalty. But the distribution of plum jobs to those who worked in Florida after the 2000 election suggests that service became a kind of political merit badge that carried a special benefit.
“Work on the recount is the indispensable connection for work at the Bush administration,” said Jeffrey Toobin, author of Too Close to Call: The 36-Day Battle to Decide the 2000 Election.
Just how many Bush appointees actually served the Bush-Cheney campaign here is not clear. The White House declined to provide a list of who in the administration actually worked for the campaign in Florida. Florida lawyer Barry Richard, a Democrat who was hired by the Bush campaign to fight its legal battle over the recount, said there were 192 lawyers of record on various court cases around the state.
To identify the appointees, The Herald conducted dozens of interviews and studied White House nominations and government staff directories -- then matched names to news accounts, photo captions and several books about the episode. In addition, some appointees included their recount roles in news releases, or accounts in university and law journals.
LAWYERS IN KEY ROLES: White House says Bush tapped ‘bright minds’
Most were lawyers who worked all-nighters in Tallahassee and across South Florida as ballot observers and political operatives as well as litigators and behind-the-scenes writers of legal briefs.
White House officials defended the appointments, noting that many appointees take big pay cuts when they move into government jobs. Appointees with Florida service to the Bush-Cheney recount effort make from $52,300 a year to $166,700 for Attorney General John Ashcroft, who also passed through Tallahassee during the recount.
“The finest legal minds in the country were brought in on both sides,” said White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo. “It’s only logical that an administration would tap some of those same bright minds to hold legal positions throughout the administration.”
Mamo, a former Capitol Hill press secretary who now earns $62,760, was among those who came to Florida for the recount. Already with the Bush-Cheney campaign, she worked as part of the GOP’s media team. Other GOP press aides who went from the Florida recount to the White House include Nicolle Devenish, Tucker Eskew, Ken Lisaius and Scott McClellan.
Several of the people who served as political operatives and attorneys said there was no explicit quid pro quo in their decision to come to Florida to do battle with the forces of Democratic candidates Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. But they also acknowledged that the service helped them draw the attention of the Bush team.
Lawyer R. Ted Cruz, a Bush-Cheney campaign worker and former clerk to U.S. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, arrived in Tallahassee for the first time in his life within 24 hours of the election to work on briefs. He became part of an early inner circle that included more nationally prominent Republican lawyers such as George J. Terwilliger III and Benjamin L. Ginsberg, who had been an outside counsel to the campaign.
“It did give an opportunity for lawyers who had been supporting Bush to shine, to demonstrate what they were capable of,” Cruz said. “On a day-to-day basis, a campaign does not deal with senior constitutional litigators that often. It was an opportunity for the senior people on the campaign to see firsthand the abilities of these lawyers.”
Today, Cruz is director of policy and planning at the Federal Trade Commission, earning $138,200. Earlier, he did a stint as a Bush administration lawyer at the Justice Department, working on the transition to Ashcroft from former Attorney General Janet Reno.
WORKING ‘BY INSTINCT:’ Diplomat says he received no assurance of a reward
Bolton, the U.S. diplomat now responsible for arms control issues, said no payoff was promised for his decision to join the post-election fray. He had worked for the first Bush administration and, finding himself in South Korea on election night, contacted former Secretary of State James Baker in Texas to see how he might lend a hand. The reply: Go to Florida.
“I think, frankly, most of the people who did it just went down there by instinct,” Bolton said. He said he received no legal fees, although the campaign paid his hotel bills and other expenses.
Bolton was part of the legal team and a ballot observer in Palm Beach County. Then he rushed to Tallahassee as the recount battle reached higher courts.
It was his role, on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2000, to burst into a library where workers were recounting Miami-Dade ballots andrelay news of the U.S. Supreme Court’s stay in the on-again, off-again presidential recount.
“I’m with the Bush-Cheney team, and I’m here to stop the count,” he was quoted as saying in news reports at the time.
The Florida fraternity included major figures in the Bush administration, notably Theodore Olson, the current solicitor general, who worked on the case in both Tallahassee and Miami, then argued candidate Bush’s case before the U.S. Supreme Court, and Robert Zoellick, now the U.S. trade representative, who served as a virtual chief of staff to Baker, Bush’s main Florida strategist.
TEAM WAS VERSATILE: Roles included researching, writing and demonstrating
But there are many whose roles in Florida went largely unremarked on at the time:
▪ Five lawyers who did research and wrote briefs to fight Florida court challenges are now deputies in the White House counsel’s office.
▪ Three senior strategists in Tallahassee now hold $130,000-a-year jobs as general counsels to Cabinet departments: David D. Aufhauser, now at Treasury, supervised a unit of lawyers that ran Bush’s military and overseas ballot campaign; Alex M. Azar, now at Health and Human Services, was part of the so-called “revolving brain trust” that tackled different legal theories in Tallahassee; and Kirk Van Tine, now at Transportation, came from Baker’s Texas law firm, Baker Botts, to run a war room of bright young lawyers who cranked out various motions.
▪ Three members of the window-pounding crowd that on Thanksgiving Eve helped persuade the Miami-Dade County canvassing board to abandon the recount are now members of the White House staff: Matt Schlapp, now a special assistant to the president; Garry Malphrus, deputy director of the president’s Domestic Policy Council; and Joel Kaplan, also a special assistant to the president.
Schlapp and Malphrus, both of whom declined to talk to The Herald, were first identified in 2000 in The Washington Post as part of the Miami-Dade demonstration. Kaplan described his role in a lecture at the Harvard University Institute of Politics, calling the demonstration the “Brooks Brothers Protest,” a reference to the way the demonstrators were dressed.
▪ Former Texas Transportation System Chairman David Laney left his Austin law firm to serve as a ballot recount observer in Volusia County. Bush appointed him recently to Amtrak’s seven-member board of directors. The directorship is a federal post touted by Laney’s firm as a “leadership role in the transportation arena.” It has no salary but pays a per diem and travel expenses.
▪ Kevin Martin, now a $130,000-a-year commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, was one of the first national Bush-Cheney people to arrive in Miami from Washington, on Nov. 8. He had been a deputy general counsel for the Bush campaign and before that worked for Ken Starr, the independent counsel in the Monica Lewinsky affair.
▪ New York lawyer Brad Blakeman, who helped organize protests in South Florida and appeared in one Associated Press dispatch at the time as a “Broward County GOP volunteer,” today is director of White House scheduling.
▪ Associate Deputy Attorney General Stuart A. Levey represented Bush-Cheney in Martin County. He was with Baker’s Texas law firm at the time.
▪ Boca Raton developer Ned L. Siegel, long a generous donor to the GOP, has been nominated by Bush to serve as a director of the Overseas Private Investment Corp. During the recount crisis, he sued Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore in a bid to stop the manual recount of the troubled butterfly ballots on constitutional grounds.
▪ Private lawyer Marcos Jimenez joined the Bush-Cheney legal team in Florida and is now awaiting confirmation as U.S. attorney for Florida’s Southern District. His brother, Frank, took two weeks of unpaid leave from his job as acting general counsel to Gov. Jeb Bush, the president’s brother, to assist the Bush-Cheney campaign in the recount battle. He was recently tapped to become chief of staff for U.S. Housing Secretary Mel Martinez of Orlando.
▪ Miami lawyer Mark Wallace, who fought on behalf of the GOP in Palm Beach County during the butterfly ballot brouhaha, is today acting general counsel at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, run by Joe Allbaugh, the Bush-Cheney campaign manager.
DEMOCRAT AMONG THEM: He takes ‘less cynical’ view of the Bush appointments
Many of the lawyers who worked in Florida are members of The Federalist Society, a network of legal conservatives who, in a string of telephone calls, summoned former Supreme Court clerks and other experts to Florida.
Barry Richard, the Democrat from the Greenberg Traurig law firm who was hired for the recount by the Bush-Cheney campaign, said he is not surprised that the path to posts in the Bush administration wound through Florida.
“The less cynical way and probably more legitimate way to see this is that the reason these people are around [Bush] is because he thought they were good at what they did,” Richard said.
“Almost all the individuals who went into the administration — maybe all of them — were involved in the Bush campaign during the campaign itself and were also longtime participants with the Republican Party. And I think that probably their involvement with the administration was not related to their participation in the litigation itself but their connection to the Bush team.”
As for his own role in the recount, Richard said no one ever suggested that his work would win him a Bush administration post.
“Nobody offered me anything,” he said, “and I never expressed any interest in anything.”