The White House revealed recently that George W. Bush has spoken with a private attorney about the criminal probe into the leak of an undercover CIA operative’s name.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Bush would probably retain attorney Jim Sharp of Washington D.C., if he thinks he needs the lawyer’s advice while a Federal grand jury investigates the leak of the name of Valerie Plame as a CIA covert operative. Bush is not believed to be a target of the probe, but he anticipates being questioned about the leak.
Plame was identified as CIA by veteran Washington journalist Robert Novak. He said her name was leaked to him by two senior administration officials. Plame is the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
In February 2002, Wilson went to Niger to investigate the claim that Niger sold yellowcake uranium to Iraq. Wilson found no credible evidence of such a sale. Documents concerning such a sale were crude forgeries. Nevertheless, on January 29, 2003, in his State of the Union Address, George W. Bush said, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Wilson believes that the leak concerning his wife was retaliation for his unwillingness to back the White House’s Niger-Iraq claims.
Where’s the White House Counsel?
Bush spoke to a private attorney and not a White House counsel because there is no attorney-client privilege between a president and a White House counsel that allows the counsel to withhold information from a Federal grand jury.
In 1997, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case In re: Grand Jury Subpoena Duces Tecum that “the White House may not use [a governmental attorney-client] privilege to withhold potentially relevant information from a federal grand jury.” In 1998, the US DC Circuit Court of Appeals said in the case In re: Bruce Lindsey that “a government attorney may not invoke the attorney-client privilege in response to grand jury questions seeking information relating to the possible commission of a federal crime.” Both cases were brought by then-Independent Counsel Ken Starr. The first related to his Whitewater investigation, the second to Monica Lewinsky.
Why Jim Sharp?
A search, earlier this month, of the Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directory through its Lawyer Locator search engine showed the entries for Sharp and his law firm were totally barebones. (Legal directories are like telephone directories; they publish the information given to them by their listees). Placing Sharp’s name and city in the search engine, turned up James E. Sharp of Washington, DC, and the firm Sharp and Associates. According to this entry, Sharp was born in 1940, received his B.S. from the University of Arizona, received his law degree from the University of Oklahoma, and was admitted to the bar in 1965. There were no indications of where Jim Sharp was admitted to the bar. Many attorneys are admitted in multiple jurisdictions. Sharp did not list any awards, publications or memberships in prestigious professional associations. Nor did he list any practice specialties.
The entry states that Sharp is “Rated AV,” which is a Martindale-Hubbell legal ability and general ethical standards rating. An AV rating means “a lawyer has reached the height of professional excellence. He or she has usually practiced law for many years, and is recognized for the highest levels of skill and integrity.”
The personal entry had no street address, email address, phone or fax number for the firm. One has to search the Lawyer Locator by firm and then all that turns up is the street address, K Street N.W., a street famous as the home of businesses catering to government officials. None of the “Associates” of Sharp & Associates were listed in the firm entry.
The West Legal Directory, which is where legal columnist John Dean of Findlaw.com got his information, contains the firm’s phone and fax number as well as an email address. It also does not list any “Associates” for Sharp and Associates. The practice area WLD lists for James E. Sharp is a rather strange one given the situation that has brought his name to media attention; it’s estate planning. That’s wills and trusts and setting up college funds for the grandkids. It’s not about what to say if you are questioned by a Federal criminal grand jury probing the leak of a CIA covert operative’s name. Why turn to an obscure estate planner for advice about a criminal grand jury?
Is James E. Sharp Really an Estate Planner?
Other sources paint Sharp as an excellent trial lawyer, with a white collar crime practice, a private person but one whose accomplishments are well known to older Washington, DC, lawyers. Articles in the New York Times on June 3 by Eric Lichtblau and David E. Sanger and on June 5 by Michael Janofsky, plus a transcript of the June 3 CNNﾒs American Morning with senior legal analyst Jim Toobin, paint the following portrait of Sharp’s legal career:
He began practicing law in Navy JAG and also served as assistant US District Attorney for the District of Columbia. In about four decades of law practice, he has represented Richard Nixon friend Bebe Rebozo, Nixon advisor Jeb Stuart McGruder during the Watergate scandal, and Gen. Richard V. Secord during Iran-Contra. Sharp has also numbered former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay and author Clifford Irving among his clients. Maybe that’s where the estate planning comes in. Despite the list of well-known Republican clients, his political donations go mostly to Democrats, including the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry.
Janofsky’s article quotes attorney Richard Hibey, a friend of Sharp’s describing Sharp as ” . . . publicity averse. To do the kind of work we do, it’s important to stay out of the limelight.”
And What Kind of Work Would that Be?
Hibey’s own resume gives a clue. He joined the Washington D.C. law firm of Miller and Chevalier, Chartered, in September of 2002. The Miller Chevalier press release announcing the addition of Hibey to their litigation department noted that Hibey has represented “Ferdinand Marcos, former President of the Philippines; Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard; and Iran-Contra figure Clair George, who was the CIA’s espionage chief.” The press release does not mention Hibey’s failure to object to the imposition of a life sentence against Pollard, in violation of his plea agreement.
The Miller Chevalier press release also states that “Mr. Hibey has represented a number of high profile clients in cases ranging from espionage, human rights violations, RICO [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations], and other white collar crimes to complex civil matters.”
International law Prof. Francis Boyle, of the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign does not know Jim Sharp personally. But he wonders if Sharp has a very special type of law practice:
“There is sort of a CIA bar out there as it were,” Boyle says. “That is, lawyers who have worked for the CIA in the past or have been CIA agents, either covertly or overtly or whatever. And oftentimes, they are the ones called upon to engage in legal matters related to the CIA, either when they are defending a CIA agent or when the CIA is somewhat involved.
“It’s sort of a very small clique of lawyers there in Washington, D.C. with expertise when it comes to the CIA, covert operations and things of that matter.
“One thing we know about both Presidents Bush is that they are CIA. President Bush, Sr., of course, Director of the CIA . . . As for President Bush, Jr., we do know, it was reported in the New York Times, that Bush Sr. sent him out to work for a CIA front organization for a summer. I think it was up in Alaska. So it does not surprise me that Bush Jr. went to a lawyer, an unknown lawyer, who represented Secord, who again is probably tied into the CIA somewhere.
“And, as you know, this investigation does involve the leaking and public identification of the name of a CIA agent, which is a felony under the United States law. So the CIA is shot through this whole thing and it wouldn’t surprise me if Bush got a lawyer who might have ties to the CIA.”
Is James E. Sharp Part of the “CIA Bar?”
We may never know. But it is a safe bet that George W. Bush has consulted with this private criminal defense attorney and private man to discuss the old Watergate question, “What did the president know and when did he know it?”