Interviewing 101: The Bush Administration Way

If you’re bidding for a spot at the Bush Justice Department, you better come ready to field a barrage of questions. And not the variety you might expect. If you’re not prepared, you might just leave feeling like you ran into a buzz saw.

Jack Goldsmith, in his new book The Terror Presidency, provides a first hand account of his interview at the White House to be the chief of the Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2003. The OLC position is among the most important at the Department, since its legal opinions bear directly on government policy. As Goldsmith explains, the OLC has the power to essentially offer “advance pardons” for dubious administration conduct.

So Goldsmith expected to spend the interview talking about his views on the law and the Constitution. Instead, he writes, this is how it began:

Sitting in chairs around [Deputy White House Counsel David] Leitch’s desk as I entered the room were [then-White House Counsel Alberto] Gonzales and [Dick Cheney’s counsel] David Addington. I had met both men briefly before, but I had never had an extended conversation with either. I shook everyone’s hand and was settling in on the couch at the opposite end of the room when Leitch kicked off the interview.

“Who’s Henry Perritt?” he asked in a slightly accusatory tone.

He continues:

I had no idea why he was asking me this. “He’s the dean of Chicago-Kent law school,” I replied. “And a well-known Internet scholar.”

“Why did you give eight hundred dollars to his campaign?” Leitch followed up.

My heart sank. One of Leitch’s jobs as Deputy White House Counsel was to vet candidates for political appointments. A few years earlier I had given my first, and at that point my only, campaign contribution to Perritt, who at the time was running for a seat in the House of Representatives from the Tenth District of Illinois. Perritt was not a Republican. He was a Democrat. A very liberal Democrat. I explained that Perritt was a friend, and that he had personally asked me to contribute to his campaign.

“Why have you never given money to a Republican?” Leitch continued. “Are you a Republican?”

After Goldsmith assured Leitch that he was in fact a Republican despite never having contributed to Republicans, the interview went on to more expected topics. Not surprisingly, the interview managed not to touch on his disagreements with aspects of the administration’s interrogation policy. If they’d asked, presumably Goldsmith’s gripes would have been laid bare, sparing the administration plenty of trouble. But they didn’t, although they became suitably convinced of Goldsmith’s partisan loyalty.