Bush Picks a Replacement for Harriet Miers

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In a signal that he could be open to working more closely with congressional Democrats rather than stonewalling, President Bush plans to name the widely respected Republican lawyer Fred F. Fielding as White House counsel this week, party sources tell TIME. Fielding, who held the same position under President Ronald Reagan, will succeed the President's friend Harriet Miers, who last week announced her resignation, effective Jan. 31. An official who has been briefed on the impending announcement, which could come as soon as Tuesday, called Fielding "the ultimate Washington lawyer-insider — he's the man to see."

"He's the guy who helps you defend your position, stick to your principles, but tries to work out a reasonable compromise," the official said. "He's highly partisan, but he's highly regarded by everyone." The idea came from Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, and Administration officials said they regarded it as a savvy choice. The selection of Fielding, a member of the 9/11 commission from 2002 to 2004, comes as the White House is gearing up for a multitude of investigations — and likely subpoenas — from Democrats, who took control of both chambers of Congress last week with a vow to pursue aggressive oversight and deny the White House blank checks for Iraq or anything else.

Fielding was persuaded to leave his lucrative position as a senior partner in the Washington law firm of Wiley, Rein & Fielding with "an appeal to patriotism" and an assurance that he would not just be the President's lawyer but would be deeply involved in Congressional strategy and negotiations, the official said. Fielding was Counsel to President Reagan from 1981 to 1986, deputy White House counsel from 1972 to 1974 and associate White House counsel from 1970 to 1972. He was Clearance Counsel for the Bush-Cheney Presidential Transition in 2000 and 2001, and has degrees from Gettysburg College and University of Virginia School of Law.

"The key for the Administration is going to be drawing the lines on these boundaries of executive privilege and access to documents and congressional oversight — drawing the lines around the really important issues and trying to be a little more flexible on the others," said a former colleague of Fielding. "They're not going to fold, because Fielding is a very serious, hard-nosed person, and he's a tough negotiator. But they're also going not to take a totally stonewall position. That doesn't mean they're going to cave in. What it means is they're going to negotiate and focus on the things that they're truly protecting and that are truly important."

David Gergen, who was White House adviser to four Presidents and now is a professor of public service at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, lauded Fielding last May during the commencement address at Duke University Law School, calling him an example of how a lawyer can make his children proud. Fielding was John Dean's deputy counsel, but was, as Gergen noted, "completely clean" on Watergate." Gergen said that in the Reagan White House Field would generally phrase his advice as: “You know, David, it would be technically okay for you to take the following course of action ... But can I advise you as a friend and as someone who wants to be respected that there’s a much wiser way to proceed? You won’t find it as convenient and you may not achieve everything you want, but at the end of the day, you can sleep at night and your honor will be intact.” Now, Fielding will have the chance to offer that advice to a new client.