Friday, Jan. 09, 2009

Vernon Jordan

Then: Sometimes called the "presidential friend," the "First Friend" or (by one Washington Post writer) "The Quicker Fixer-Upper," Washington attorney Vernon Jordan met Bill Clinton in 1973, long before the latter became President; the two have been friends ever since. Jordan even noted in his deposition during the Senate impeachment trial that "every year [Clinton] has been President he has had, he and his family, Christmas Eve with my family." The two have been photographed numerous times playing golf together. Jordan's chief role in the Lewinsky scandal and eventual impeachment was that he at one point was tasked with finding Monica Lewinsky a job in New York City.

Although Lewinsky expressed interest in working in the private sector, the President arranged for her to speak to then-U.N. ambassador Bill Richardson for a job at the United Nations Ambassador's Office, according to the Starr Report. When things didn't seem to move at the pace she had hoped, Lewinsky pressed the President, leading him to ask Jordan to take over on his behalf. Clinton, for his part, claimed not to have been the "precipitating force" in the meeting between Jordan and Lewinsky. In November of 1997, Lewinsky was offered a U.N. job, but turned it down in January the next year, after wavering on her decision. Still, evidence of the job search discussions helped paint a damning picture of Clinton and his loyal friend.

Now: Jordan remains a formidable force in politics and business. Though he met Clinton while working as director of the National Urban League, a community outreach organization, he now sits on the board of several Fortune 500 companies. As ever, his primary skill is the ability to make connections for his benefit and the benefit of others. As a former Clinton aide once told Salon, "he puts people together." Jordan left the law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld (where he reportedly earned about $1 million a year) in 1999 to join the Lazard Freres, where he is now the director of Lazard Ltd. and the Lazard Group, divisions of the financial advisory and investment firm. In 2001, he wrote a memoir called Vernon Can Read! recounting his civil rights struggles as a young student in the South. Jordan's office did not respond to calls for comment.