Gonzo’s Lawyer Quits Civil Case. Another Sign That Prosecutor Is Circling?

December 5, 2008 11:35 a.m.

It’s looking more and more like prosecutor Nora Dannehy’s investigation into the US Attorney firings has Alberto Gonzales in its crosshairs.

Earlier this week we reported that Dannehy had contacted the ex-AG in connection with the probe.

Now, we’ve been tipped to legal filings showing that Gonzales’ lawyer, George Terwilliger Jr. of White & Case, is no longer representing Gonzo in a separate case, a civil suit alleging that law students were denied DOJ jobs thanks to illegal politicization at the department under Gonzales.

The filing, dated November 25, reads:

Please enter the withdrawal of George J. Terwilliger III as counsel in this case for Defendant Alberto R. Gonzales, pursuant to Local Civil Rule 83.6(b).

Beneath that, Gonzales has signed his name, giving his consent to the withdrawal.

The previous day, in a separate filing, Gonzales had officially introduced a new team of attorneys as replacements, it would appear, for Terwilliger.

Please enter the appearance of Vincent H. Cohen, Jr., Peter Taylor, Lisa Fishberg and the law firm of Schertler & Onorato, LLP, on behalf of Defendant Alberto R. Gonzales.

What does this have to do with the Dannehy investigation?

It would appear that the most obvious reason for Terwilliger to withdraw from the civil suit is to be able to devote additional time to Dannehy’s more serious investigation into criminal wrong-doing.

That’s certainly the opinion of the veteran Washington lawyer bringing the civil suit in question. Dan Metcalfe, a former DOJ official and now the executive director of the Collaboration on Government Secrecy at American University Washington College of Law, who brought the suit on behalf of the law students, told TPMmuckraker*: “I think it’s quite fair to say that the most plausible explanation for what happened is that [Terwilliger] learned he was going to be otherwise occupied on Gonzales’ behalf.”

That would jibe with the news earlier this week that Dannehy has issued subpoenas through a grand jury — it would be common practice at this point for targets in the investigation to receive letters from the prosecutor informing them that they are under investigation. And of course it would be in sync with our report that Dannehy appears to have contacted Gonzales or his lawyer in connection with the probe.

A call to Terwilliger was directed instead to Bob Bork Jr., a spokesman for Gonzales, who told TPMmuckraker: “I have no comment about anything to do with Mr. Gonzales’ representation.” Asked whether he could comment more broadly on the investigation, Bork repeated: “I have no comment about anything to do with Mr. Gonzales’ representation.”

Late Update: There’s additional evidence that Terwilliger is feeling jumpy about the twin cases, and is anxious to draw a distinction between the civil suit and the possible criminal investigation. Within hours of a story being posted by the legal publication AM Law Daily incorrectly stating that DOJ was paying Gonzales’ lawyers for their work on the Dannehy investigation, Terwilliger had posted the following comment on the site:

Please correct your story as it is plainly in error to report that the Justice Department is paying Judge Gonzales’ legal fees in connection with the Inspector General inquiries. Those fees are a private responsibility. DOJ is reportedly paying fees at governement [sic] rates to another law firm in connection with a civil law suit in which Judge Gonzales has been sued in his individual capacity in connection with events in which he was involved, if at all, in his offical [sic] capacity.

The site quickly posted a correction.

* This sentence has been corrected from an earlier version.

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