James E. Sharp, the lawyer President Bush intends to hire if he is questioned in the case involving the disclosure of a C.I.A. officer’s identity, may be one of the best lawyers in Washington the public has never heard of.
He is also a contributor to several Democrats, including John Kerry’s presidential campaign.
In a legal career spanning nearly four decades, Mr. Sharp, who is 63, has represented his share of high-profile clients, including an author (Clifford Irving), a presidential friend (Bebe Rebozo), a presidential adviser (Jeb Stuart Magruder), a senator accused of bribery (Daniel B. Brewster of Maryland), a Filipino general (Fabian C. Ver) accused of murdering the president of his country and a fallen corporate leader (Kenneth Lay).
But unlike some lawyers attracted to fame through publicity, Mr. Sharp has remained well below the radar screen of Washington celebrity.
“He’s an absolutely superb trial lawyer, but as good as it he is, he’s a very private guy,” said Tom Mills, managing partner of the Washington office of the law firm, Winston & Strawn, where Mr. Sharp worked several years ago. “From the president’s standpoint, he was a superb choice. From Jim’s standpoint, he probably loves the client but hates that he raises his profile.”
Richard A. Hibey, a lawyer at Miller & Chevalier and a friend of Mr. Sharp’s since they served together as assistant United States attorneys for the District of Columbia, said: “Jim’s just publicity averse. To do the kind of work we do, it’s important to stay out of the limelight.”
Mr. Sharp did not return a call seeking comment. Nor did his son, Jess, who works for the Bush administration’s Domestic Policy Council.
Mr. Sharp’s former colleagues said they did not believe that he and Mr. Bush knew each other before Mr. Bush sought him out as a potential lawyer in the spy matter. A grand jury is investigating who disclosed the identity of Valerie Plame, a C.I.A. undercover officer, to Robert D. Novak, a syndicated columnist.
But they were certain that Mr. Sharp’s reputation as an effective lawyer, rather than any political considerations, led the president to seek him out. Indeed, donor records indicate that Mr. Sharp has given money to many more Democrats than Republicans.