Torture memo author went on to cooperate with Jack Abramoff
Muriel Kane
Published: Wednesday February 4, 2009

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The confirmation of Eric Holder as attorney general has raised the possibility of fresh revelations concerning memos written by Bush administration officials to justify torture and other questionable practices in the so-called war on terror.

One of the strangest chapters in that saga has to do with a lawyer who went directly from working on some of the earliest torture memos to a still-unexplained involvement in another major scandal of the Bush administration -- that having to do with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Timothy Flanigan, who served in 2001-02 as a deputy White House counsel under Alberto Gonzales, played an important role immediately after 9/11 in helping to provide a legal rationale for the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture.

According to the ACLU, "as deputy to then-White House Counsel Gonzales, Flanigan reportedly was responsible for advising on the development of policies that: removed protections against torture and abuse, adopted a definition of 'torture' that was later disavowed by the Administration, and resulted in an approved list of specific interrogation techniques for use by the CIA -- reportedly including waterboarding."

John Yoo's crucial September 25, 2001 memo asserting "that the president has the plenary constitutional power to take such military actions as he deems necessary and appropriate to respond to the terrorist attacks" of 9/11 was also written in response to a request from Flanigan.

Flanigan, an extreme legal conservative, had served as an acting assistant attorney general during the George H.W. Bush administration and had argued as early as 1992 that the president had the right to ignore any legislation he considered unconstitutional.

Flanigan later joined the lawfirm of White & Case, becoming the legal partner of George Terwilliger III, who had been deputy attorney general under the elder Bush. When Terwilliger was chosen to play the lead role in setting legal strategy during the 2000 Florida recount, Flanigan worked alongside him.

Flanigan's role in the recount led to his selection for the White House counsel's officer, where he quickly appears to have become indispensable. He was credited with helping gain Congressional support for creating the Department of Homeland Security and worked during the summer of 2002 on developing the legal basis for a use-of-force resolution authorizing military action against Saddam Hussein.

According to the New York Times:

"White House officials say that much of the drafting of the resolution was done by Mr. Gonzales's deputy, Mr. Flanigan. ... Mr. Flanigan worked closely, White House officials say, with Stephen J. Hadley, a lawyer who is the deputy to Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser.

"'If two guys could ever pull off a difficult drafting job, and get sign-offs from the State Department, the Justice Department, the Defense Department, the Joint Chiefs and the Department of Justice, it's these two,' said C. Boyden Gray, who as White House counsel to Mr. Bush's father, led the drafting of the 1991 [Gulf War] resolution."

Flanigan rescues Tyco

And yet this indispensable figure, Alberto Gonzales's right-hand man, would decide immediately following the November 2002 election to give up his job justifying war and torture for the White House and go to work as the general counsel for Tyco International, a firm whose name was then second only to Enron's as a byword for corporate corruption.

Tyco was an important client of Flanigan's former firm of White & Case -- and his former partner George Terwilliger was Tyco's attorney -- but that alone seems insufficient to explain such an abrupt and ultimately self-destructive career move. It raises the question of whether Flanigan might have gone to Tyco not for personal reasons but because the White House wanted him there.

Tyco was then in deep disarray, with its former top executives all under criminal indictment and Congress threatening it with the loss of federal contracts and new taxes on its subsidiaries in offshore tax havens. However, many of the Republican Party's most reliable corporate donors -- such as Enron -- were in even worse trouble, and someone in the White House may have felt it was worth giving up Flanigan's services in an effort to save Tyco from ruin.

When Flanigan arrived in December 2002, Tyco was already a client of the lobbying firm of Greenberg Traurig. A couple of months later, that firm recommended its top lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, to Tyco as the person who could best help them gain a sympathetic hearing in the White House and Congress. Over the next few months, Tyco would pay Greenberg Traurig $1.5 million for Abramoff's services.

Beyond that, Tyco paid an additional $1.8 million in May and June 2003 -- specifically at Timothy Flanigan's direction -- to a public relations firm called Grassroots Interactive, which was actually a thinly-disguised Abramoff front group. Only a small percentage of that money was ever spent on the promised grassroots letter-writing campaign, the rest vanishing into Abramoff's own pockets and into his labrynthine network of other front groups.

Two years later, when Alberto Gonzales had become attorney general and Flanigan was nominated to succeed James B. Comey as deputy attorney general, it was that payment to Grassroots International -- even more than his involvement with the torture memos -- that would scuttle Flanigan's nomination.

When the Grassroots Interactive story came out, Josh Marshall of Talking Points memo found it especially peculiar that Tyco would have been advised to turn to Abramoff to gain Karl Rove's support, since Flanigan himself had stronger White House connections than Abramoff did.

The answer Marshall proposed to this paradox was, "If you think of Jack Abramoff as just a crooked lobbyist most of the facts coming out about what he did don't make a great deal of sense. He was a key player in a very big political machine and he was managing a slush fund. ... Tyco lawyer George Terwilliger claims the firm 'was a victim of a rip-off.' So is that it? Another rip-off? Another corporation which hires a lawyer out of the White House only to get taken in by Jack Abramoff's wiles? Please. ... The Republican machine built by DeLay, Norquist, Abramoff, et al. and pulled into high gear after 2001, is a pay-for-play political machine. If Tyco wanted help, they had to pay in. That's what the $2 million was."

However, the Grassroots Interactive incident was not Flanigan's only questionable interaction with Abramoff -- or the only one which Terwilliger attempted to explain away. A second episode was revealed in early 2006, when Abramoff's friend David Safavian was charged with having lied about an August 2002 golfing trip to Scotland.

According to the Washington Post:
David H. Safavian, who has been charged with obstructing the Abramoff corruption investigation, alerted Abramoff in November 2003 that the GSA was about to suspend the contracts of four Tyco subsidiaries, prosecutors said in court papers. Safavian provided "sensitive and confidential information" about internal GSA deliberations, as well as advice about how to get around the suspension, the prosecutors said.

George Terwilliger, Tyco's attorney, said yesterday that Abramoff's tip was of substantial benefit to Tyco but was unsolicited. Tyco's senior lawyer, Timothy Flanigan, contacted the GSA and "asked for an opportunity to address the suspension issue on the merits," Tyco said in a statement yesterday.

Abramoff "was not retained or engaged on this matter" by Tyco and was not paid for it, Terwilliger said. "I have asked and been assured by line-level prosecutors that neither Tyco nor anyone at the company is being investigated or is suspected of any wrongdoing."

Flanigan, Terwilliger, and Alberto Gonzales

Flanigan's tag-teaming with Terwilliger in defending Tyco was not the end of their close association in questionable causes. When Alberto Gonzales got into legal difficulties during the spring of 2007 over the firing of US attorneys for allegedly political reasons, both Flanigan and Terwilliger came to his defense.

Terwilliger testified on Gonzales's behalf before the House Judiciary Committee, insisting that "in my experience, particularly as deputy attorney general, there are a wide variety of reasons why a change in leadership at a United States attorney's office may be appropriate or even necessary. ... There is no entitlement to the job."

Flanigan, for his part, helped Gonzales rehearse for his disastrous Senate testimony, during which he would plead an inability to recall details and claim that "while reasonable people might decide things differently, my decision to ask for the resignations of these U.S. attorneys is justified."

Terwilliger's name was prominently floated through the summer of 2007 as a possible successor to Gonzales, but he was apparently regarded as overly partisan. Instead, when Gonzales finally resigned in September 2007, he promptly hired Terwilliger as his attorney to represent him against possible criminal charges.