Naked City

The GOP's Far Right-Hand Man

When Republicans wanted to attack President Bill Clinton, they relied on Ted Olson and his allies. Now that they are doing battle in Florida with Vice-President Al Gore over how ballots are to be counted, or re-counted, Olson is again the GOP's go-to guy.

Olson's name should be familiar to observers of affirmative action battles in Texas. It was Olson who argued a critical anti-affirmative-action lawsuit before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1996. His clients prevailed in the lawsuit -- named for plaintiff Cheryl Hopwood -- and caused convulsions throughout Texas' higher education system. The Hopwood decision resulted in an end to any special considerations for minorities applying for admission to colleges and universities in Texas.

Olson's work on the Hopwood case was funded by the Center for Individual Rights, a conservative Washington, D.C., public interest law firm. CIR gets the bulk of its funding -- $1.6 million this year -- from the big givers of the far right. Among its most important contributors is archconservative Richard Mellon Scaife, who also funded groups that pushed for investigations into the suicide of former Clinton aide Vincent Foster, in an attempt to prove that Foster was murdered.

There are other connections between Olson and Scaife. Olson sat on the board of the foundation that oversaw the American Spectator magazine, the publication that launched the infamous "Arkansas Project" -- the investigation that delved into Clinton's sexual history and the Whitewater land deal. Scaife contributed some $2.4 million to the magazine for the purpose of investigating Clinton. That investigation provided fuel for Kenneth Starr's investigation into Clinton's past and arguably was the reason for Paula Jones' lawsuit against Clinton. That suit eventually led Clinton to lie under oath. It may also cost him his law license if the Arkansas courts rule against him.

There's more. Olson also represented David Hale, the former municipal judge from Little Rock who was one of Clinton's chief accusers. Hale testified in the 1996 criminal trial of then-Arkansas governor Jim Guy Tucker and Jim and Susan McDougal. The three were partners with the Clintons in the infamous Whitewater land deal.

Perhaps it's just coincidence, but Olson and Starr are longtime pals. They were partners at the Washington law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, where Olson still works. They worked together in the Justice Department during the Reagan administration, and Olson later acted as Reagan's lawyer during the Iran-Contra scandal, an incident that raised serious constitutional issues and could have been grounds for Reagan's impeachment.

Olson is once again the standard-bearer for the Republicans. The Washington-based attorney now represents George W. Bush's campaign in its effort to stop Florida officials from hand counting ballots in that state. On Nov. 13, in U.S. District Court in Miami, Olson argued against the recounts on federal grounds, saying the hand counting method is "selective, standardless, subjective, unreliable and, inevitably, biased." But the judge on the case, Judge Donald Middlebrooks, a Clinton appointee, ruled against Olson and on Nov. 17 the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta refused to hear Olson's appeal. That same day, Olson filed briefs with the Florida Supreme Court in which he argues that the "entire world is witnessing the distortion and destruction of a presidential election in selected areas in Florida."

Olson once said jokingly during a meeting of the Federalist Society -- a far-right national legal group -- that he was "at the heart" of "the vast right-wing conspiracy." Given his history, that statement doesn't look like much of a joke.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Ted Olson, Florida recount, Cheryl Hopwood, Center for Individual Rights, Richard Mellon Scaife, Kenneth Starr, Bill Clinton, David Hale, Federalist Society

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