ArticlesBlog

Hughes Center For Public Policy Don McGahn

Hughes Center For Public Policy   Don McGahn


My name is John Froonjian. I’m the Executive
Director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy. The Hughes Center is
committed to providing opportunities for students and the community to engage on
important public issues. If you appreciate the work of the Hughes Center,
and would like to support us, please visit us online at stockton.edu/hughescenter. I’d like to ask Dr. Harvey Kesselman, President of Stockton University to give welcoming remarks. Good morning, good afternoon. Thank you
and welcome distinguished guests, alumni, elected leaders, members of the Judiciary
and legal community, the Stockton Board of Trustees, who are here with us today,
our foundation board, and of course Stockton students, faculty, and staff. We
are delighted you are here today with us as we host a conversation about White
House legal, judicial, and political issues with former White House Counsel
Don McGahn. Stockton University’s William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy is
committed to fostering civil dialogue and civic engagement, and exploring
important public policy issues of our day. Today’s event offers a unique
opportunity to hear from a public servant who’s had a front-row seat
during an extraordinary time in our nation’s history. I’d also like to thank
Mr. Bill Hughes Jr., an attorney with the firm of Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, and
the son of the Hughes Center’s namesake the late ambassador William J. Hughes.
Bill was instrumental in making today’s event possible,
and we are truly appreciative of his continuing support of Stockton
University. The Hughes Center has often provided a forum for a myriad of
political voices and perspectives. Past speakers have included the Supreme Court
Justice Neil Gorsuch, New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, former Vice
President Joe Biden, and former Governors Jim Florio and Christine Todd
Whitman, to name a few. Today, Stockton welcomes Don McGahn
to discuss his experiences and his career. Don is an Atlantic City native. In fact, initially from Atlantic City, and
then Brigantine. His mom Noreen, by the way is here with us today. Will you
please raise your hand and be acknowledged, Noreen? Still a Brigantine
native, and was a former school nurse in a pretty good Brigantine school
district. He served as Chief Counsel for the National Republican Congressional
Committee, and served on the Federal Election Commission, among many other
roles before his appointment as the White House Counsel for the Trump
Administration. Having the opportunity to listen to a broad range of perspectives
helps all of us to make sense of our fascinating, yet complex social and
political environments. Such intellectual challenges require us to commit
ourselves to critical thinking, which truly lies at the very heart of civil discourse. It’s what fuels our desire to learn and
supports our willingness to reflect on ideas and explore multiple ways of
thinking about topics and situations. This is why we are so grateful for the
Hughes family and their continuing support of Stockton, and our efforts to provide
ongoing opportunities for engaging public dialogue. Thank you, and enjoy
today’s conversation. Bill Hughes is an experienced litigator
in principle with the law firm of Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, where he
specializes in white-collar Federal investigations and criminal defense. Bill
has prior experience as an Assistant US Attorney and Trial Attorney for the US
Department of Justice. Before that experience, he served as a Judicial Clerk
with the Honorable John F. Gary, Chief Judge of the US District Court for the
District of New Jersey. Bill achieved his LLM in taxation from Georgetown
University Law Center, and received his Juris Doctor with Honors from Rutgers
University Law School. He obtained a Master of Arts degree from the Eagleton
Institute of Politics and Public Policy, and a Bachelor of Arts from Franklin & Marshall College. Of course, he is the son of the Hughes Center’s namesake, the late
ambassador William J. Hughes. Bill, I really appreciate your participation
today. Bill Hughes. Thank you. I have to say that Harvey
stole some of my thunder in introducing Don McGahn. But let me first start by
saying that the Hughes Center for Public Policy was created to foster a greater
understanding of civic issues, and to promote civil discourse. Consistent with
my father’s legacy, he wanted to encourage and promote the discussion of
all political perspectives with the idea that listening to different viewpoints
enhances understanding, fosters compromise, and ultimately
benefits the body politic. Don McGahn, Atlantic County native, former Chairman
of the Federal Election Commission, and former White House Counsel, is a man who
my late father knew and respected. He and my dad had long conversations in the
past couple years, and what they talked about, I don’t know, and I didn’t ask, but
my dad told me how proud he was of Don for his honesty, for his courageousness,
professionalism, sense of duty, and his patriotism. Indeed, high praise from my
father, who was very concerned over their bitter partisanship that exists in
Washington these days, and that has paralyzed our government. As Harvey has
indicated, Don was born here in Atlantic County, raised in Atlantic City, and in
Brigantine, the son of Donald and Noreen McGahn, and Mrs. McGahn is here tonight.
Thank you so much for coming today. He graduated from Holy Spirit High
School from Notre Dame University, and received his Juris Doctor from Widener
University, and his LLM, his Master’s of Law from Georgetown University. He became
an expert in election law. A partner at Patton Boggs in Washington DC, and
then he was appointed as Chief Counsel, or a General Counsel to the National
Republican Congressional Committee. He was appointed to the Federal Election
Commission, and eventually became its Chairman. In 2015, Don, while a partner at
Jones Day was hired to be the Campaign Counsel for
Donald Trump’s 2016 candidacy. He played a pivotal role in getting President
Trump on the ballot in all 50 states, and fighting the rules changes during the
during the meetings prior to the Republican National Convention. Don was
then appointed as Counsel to the transition team and ultimately to be
White House Counsel. As White House Counsel, Don provided legal advice to the
entire Executive Office of the President, and we will talk today about what he
did. But on a particular note, Don oversaw the selection and nomination, and
confirmation of over 107 Federal Judges. 40 of them to the Circuit Courts of
Appeal, and two to the Supreme Court. He was in the middle of some of the most
contentious confirmation hearings in the history of our Republic. And I’m not just
talking about Justice Kavanaugh, but many of the Circuit Court nominations were
fraught with partisanship. Still, he was the successful architect, and he was he
was the guy that was in the center of changing the face of our Federal
Judiciary. Sometime in 2017 or 2018, Don was instructed by the President’s lawyer
to submit two interviews conducted by the Special Master. These interviews, some
of them, are detailed in the Special Master’s reports, and are currently the
subject of litigation. So, and I’ll discuss that in a moment. On a personal note, Don is the husband to the lovely and talented Shannon McGahn, and an
accomplished public servant, and now associated with the National Realtors.
And the father of two of two young boys. He is a hockey dad. I have to note that
he’s also very humble. In 2017, fresh off the success of the confirmation of
Justice Gorsuch, Don and his family came to Lynwood for their Easter
Egg Hunt, and we were standing around, and a reporter walked up to me and said, “Bill,
you were at the White House! That’s so cool! I want to interview and
find out all about it!” Now, you know and Don is standing right there, and I said,
“I’d like you to meet my friend Don.” And Don breeches over, and says, “Hi, Don McGahn.”
The reporter looks at him, and says, “Great, thanks. So tell me about the White House!”
And he looked over at me. I said, “Ah, forget it.” Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Don McGahn. So before I begin, please
understand that Mr. McGahn is a lawyer, and like all lawyers, he has to abide by
the rules of professional conduct that govern all attorneys. Under these
rules, he owes a duty to all of his former clients, including the Executive
Office of the President. So Mr. McGahn may not be able to answer all, but might
not be able to answer some of those questions that I ask. If that’s the case, Don, please let me know and I will ask you in the audience to understand that
he is doing what the law requires of him. I didn’t hear a word you said, I’m eyeing
the popcorn. Its Johnson’s popcorn. (Don): I know it is, I can see the branding. (Bill): Have some. You want some? Well, maybe later I don’t wanna get all stuck. It’s very tasty. It’s sticky too. I understand. You’re used to that, I mean you were, you know… (Don): Don’t start. (Bill): Okay.
My first question, and it is timely that you’re here. You couldn’t come at a better time. I hear that a lot. I know. And I have to ask this
question: A nation is divided. You have some on one side saying it was necessary,
almost required, on the other side saying the actions aren’t justified, that it
was rash, and that an institution is in jeopardy. And I think the audience would
like to know. So I have to ask you… Harry and Megan What are your thoughts? It’s a tough one. Not as tough as where I thought you were going. I heard she called the Queen, and she thought it was a perfect call. (Audience laughs.) I don’t know. I didn’t know you can quit the Royal Family. I didn’t know that was a thing. I
thought they kicked you out, but I’m not Royal, so I’m not sure how that works, but
it’s fascinating. I’ve never really been a Royalphile. My wife follows it, though. So, maybe you should be interviewing her. At least it didn’t
happen by Twitter… You were born and raised in in Atlantic City. (Don): Right. Your extended family were legendary Democrats. Your one uncle was a Democratic State
Senator, your other uncle was a Democratic power broker, sometimes in the
national stage. They knocked off Hap Farley in the legendary Republican
political machine that dated back to Nucky Johnson. How is it that you’re a
lifelong Republican? I enjoy liberty. I don’t like the government. Okay, but… Now I’m going to start scaring you. It’s a good question. I get that a lot, coming from a
family of prominent Democrats. How did I end up where I ended up? My grandfather
actually was Republican, and Hap Farley was his attorney. Senator Farley
represented a lot of people in Atlantic County, including my grandfather, who was on his own bar. His sons drifted Democrat, I think John Kennedy had a lot
to do with that. I think the way politics were going, it made sense.
And my uncle Joe, who ran for State Senate I think in 71 defeated Farley, and
undid the Republican machine. Pat was sort of the man behind the guy, so to speak. As a lawyer, he he actually did advance for Bobby Kennedy in ’68. He was in
California June of ’68. (Bill): Right. And he had done National Convention in
’64. That was in Atlantic City, so he was very much a Democrat. I came of age later. I
came of age much more in the 80’s under Ronald Reagan, and Reagan appealed to me.
And I really did not see myself as particularly politically active until
later in life. My parents were not part of the
political circus that my uncles were. And in a lot of ways, they kept me
away from it. Local politics, you latch on to one politician. It’s great until he
loses, and then you kind of run out of town on a rail, and they didn’t think
that was a good life. So in a weird way I think I probably disappointed them by
coming into politics, ultimately. But… You know, things happen. So, you know, I came
of age later. I think my family became more conservative as time went on. My
Uncle Joe was essentially booted from the Democratic Party in the late 70’s,
even though he was an incumbent Democrat Senator. He later ran as a Republican in
the early 80’s. I think ’81. (Bill): I didn’t know that. (Don): Yeah, he did. He ran first Independent, then as a Republican. I think it was ’81. At that point, it was the most
expensive election in the history of New Jersey. It was the first to do TV advertising at
the state Senate level. Governors did TV advertising, but it was the first real
barnburner of where people took the TV… (Bill): On all three channels? (Don): And, right. Right, the public one and the other one, and the one they said has a kind of
snow on it. Right, so he actually ended up running as a Republican, and then I think
we we drifted more that direction. I originally registered to vote as an
Independent, and then at the first election I voted in, I voted for your dad. Well, thank you. Well, he was already an incumbent for years, and I think he might have been on a post, but still, you know I voted for him. And that was probably ’92. (Bill): And I’m sure that he would thank you. You know… yeah, yeah. He would, he would, yeah. Well, you left South Jersey, and you… I did, yeah. Don’t say escape, don’t say it. I didn’t, why are you? Wait, what? Don’t judge. You went to law school and became one of the country’s
foremost experts in election law and election financing. (Don): So people say. (Bill): So what was that path? I mean how do you end up in that? I ended up at a big law firm in Washington, DC called Patton Boggs. And one of the name partners was Tom Boggs, who… father had been the Democrat
leader in the house, and had passed in a plane crash, unfortunately. So Tom Boggs
was sort of a legend to DC. I ended up in his law firm, and there was a fella there by
the name of Ben Ginsberg, who did election law. He had been the Chief
Counsel to the Republican National Committee, and all the other party
committees and he was a partner there, and I got to know him. And growing up in
Atlantic City, election law lawyers were the guys that impounded ballot machines on
election day. Like one day a year, “election law lawyers” did some work. Here
was a guy that did elections 365 days a year. I thought it was fascinating, and I
realized that there was something that maybe I could do. And having grown up in
it with family members and politics, it ended up being a natural fit. So I ended
up latching on to Ben, who was an excellent mentor, worked for him for a
number of years. And it started out as defense work, actually defending
politicians who had already done things, and were in a little bit of trouble. And
being someone who did litigation and that sort of practice, I became
the brief writer and the deposition defender, and the person who actually
defended politicians. And that grew, as most law practices do, one case turns to two, two turns to four, or four turns to eight, and next thing you know, that becomes your specialty. And then I became the General Counsel at
the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is one of the national
parties of the Republican Party that focuses on House elections, so I did that
full time, and that’s when the expertise really grew, and then that led to… I
started my own firm for a bit, and did nothing but political law, and such as
campaign finance, it’s also redistricting, it’s first amendment, it’s general
regulatory compliance for campaigns, and everything in between. Government ethics, and the like, and then President Bush appointed me to the Federal Election Commission in 2008, and
I became chairman of the FEC. The Senate confirmed slots, so I know
what it’s like to go through that gauntlet as well. (Bill): Was that fun? (Don): No, not fun.
Not fun at all. Well, when you became Chairman, did you believe
that you had a mandate? I mean did you believe that you… you know, had a
mission to do something? Well, I don’t know if mandate’s the right word. Mandate’s
something politicians use. Agency heads aren’t really up for office. I always
kept in mind I was never elected, I was appointed. (Bill): Sorry. (Don): It’s a big
difference. The elected officials are supposed to really make the big
decisions for us, not unelected people. But the mandate, if there was one, was
really coming from the courts. The Supreme Court was starting to strike a
lot of what was called McCain–Feingold, which is a Campaign Finance Reform Law
passed in the early 2000’s, and they’re already a couple cases that had begun to
chip away at it. And lower courts were chipping away at it, because some of it
was pretty unconstitutional. And when I was at the FEC, a case called Citizens
United came down, and that really was to me, the logical conclusion of what a
number of decisions prior to Citizens United had said. So, to the extent I was
taking orders, it was from court orders, which I think are binding on agencies,
and the Supreme Court speaks as to what’s constitutional and what’s not
constitutional. You have to follow it. Well, was Citizens United a good decision
or bad decision? It was a good decision, I mean it was… correct I think. When I go and talk at law schools, or teach at law schools, I always ask a
class, who thinks Citizens United was correctly decided. And maybe one kid
sheepishly puts up his hand who thinks it was wrong they decided. Everybody puts
up two hands, oh it’s horrible. And then in the course of my talk, I will
then work in that can the government ban say a movie, available on pay-for-view
cable that only adults can watch in the privacy of their own home, simply because
it says bad things about somebody who’s running for President, and the entire class says, “Of course not. That violates the
First Amendment.” And then I’ll say, well you just rule with the majority in
Citizens United, because those are actually the facts of Citizens United.
The media commentators, academics, and others have, you know,
sensationalized it, but at its core, the case was about trying to ban a movie on
pay-for-view cable. What’s really shocking about it is four Supreme Court
Justices said the Government can ban that movie. Well, regardless of the merits of the decision, was the… What do you think the impact of that
decision was? Was it a positive, negative, neutral? Look, I’m one who thinks that
more speech is better in a free society and a democratic experiment that we have.
I think that voters need to be more informed, not less informed. So removing restrictions on speech generally are a good thing. I think that prior to Citizens United, wealthy individuals and corporations did
TV ads, they did a lot of campaign things, but they avoided saying vote for, vote
against, and those sort of words of advocacy. Now, Citizens United merely says you can
go all in, and it’s clear that you can say vote for, vote against, so the practical
impact, really, I don’t I don’t see it as nearly as big as others see it, because
people were doing it before people were doing it after. Remember, you go back to
the original law in the 70’s, the Supreme Court in the mid seventies struck a lot
of the similar kind of restrictions that they tried post-Watergate, so it’s not a
new concept that the Supreme Court would not take kindly to speech restrictions. Well do you… setting aside Citizens United, do you see the role of big money in election as a systemic problem or as an acceptable form of
political speech, or do you have another perspective? My perspective actually, is that we are evolving out of the idea of big big money buying a bunch
of TV ads and really doing much to influence voters. That was the norm and
the perception 10, 15, 20 years ago. But the Internet has really leveled the
playing field. Right now, it’s no longer the rich guy with the
printing press who controls what people hear. Everyone in a way is their own
version of a journalist, and everyone kind of has their own printing
press because of the internet. So it’s much cheaper now to get your message out
if you’re a candidate. Things are still very expensive. You ran for office, you
know this. But as time goes on, I think the leveller has been the fact
that people are moving away from TV. Secondly, how many people really watch TV
anymore and watch all the ads? A lot of people DVR shows, a lot of people watch
things on Netflix, so these massive media buys that people used to do, they just don’t
get you the bang for the buck they used to get. So I think at the end of the day,
we’re growing our way out of the idea a rich guy buying the bigger megaphone. Buying the bigger megaphone on television and direct mail, but now you
have such such the thing as micro-targeting. (Don): Right. (Bill): You have the efforts to utilize the data on Facebook and and other social media to
try and reach voters through fake accounts and like, and through
basically social engineering, and some of that costs big money, and using a dark
money shield, you don’t know where that’s coming from. Is that something that we
should be looking at, and we should possibly be regulating or somehow
keeping an eye on it? You baked a lot into that one. (Bill:) I did. (Don): A lot in there. I have a speech, you got all kinds of things, like whenever someone brings that up, why not? (Bill): Have some popcorn. (Don): That’s not as sticky as your question. There you go. Very good. Very good. (Bill): I understand that. It’s pretty good. (Don): Um, can you repeat the question? Now look, if you go back to the founding of the country,
Publius, right? Anonymous Federalist Papers. So the idea of anonymous speech
in and of itself is not something that really concerns me that much. Now,
you have distorting influence of money, and that sort of thing, and those
arguments have been going on for a long, long time. We have been toying with this in our in
our system of government for a long, long time. The debate’s going to continue, and
there’s well developed views on both sides. I happen to be more on the
side that I think more speech is better than less speech, and the idea of trying
to regulate it and level it, when we’ve tried to do that, has actually caused
things to even be more skewed. I understand what you’re
saying, yeah. Um… So you live here. You’re from here. (Don): From here, I don’t live here anymore. (Bill): So you live and work in DC, but you’re a South Jersey guy originally. (Don): Yes, right. (Bill): And is there anything distinctly South Jersey that you bring with you? I
mean, when you and I had lunched, what was it, about a year, year and a half ago? We
ran into Kellyanne Conway from Hammonton, and she greeted me with the
traditional South Jersey salutation. What the hell are you doing here? Do you bring anything South Jersey to your job? Um, my native tongue is sarcasm. They’d
shake that, right? Sort of part of the culture here I guess. You know, we
have a certain sense of humor. We do! Well how is it that you ended up
representing Donald Trump’s campaign? That’s a good question. I get that one a
lot. I had gotten to the point in my career where I would be one of the sort
of people you would call if you’re going to run for high office. So I’d had enough
campaigns under my belt, enough representations that I was fortunate
enough to be one of the people that a lot of campaigns reached out to, and I
had a client. Actually, Citizens United, and the head of Citizens United, David Bossie, and I were talking one day, and we were handicapping who may run,
who may not run, and Dave said what about Trump? You might like Trump and I said,
“Trump? Is he even a Republican?” “Oh yeah, yeah, he’s conservative, yeah you guys would
get along.” I think, “Okay, you sure?” He said, “Yeah, you know. but I know him. Let’s go
meet him.” I said “Okay, we’ll do that.” So I went up where I was arguing a case in
the Southern District in New York for Citizens United, and afterwards, I went to meet mr. Trump, and… we kind of hit it off and talked a
little bit about family, and little things, and I got a call to come back and
see him a couple more times. We talked more about politics and his views on the
world. At that point, I had a view, still do have the view, that the parties have
really dealigned the usual issue sets that elect people to the Presidency on
either side of the aisle have really decoupled from the norm, and that for a
Republican to win the White House would not have to be the same old religion
that Republicans have been offering. And there are a couple books I had read, one
from a guy named Hedrick Smith at the New York Times, another one by Charles
Murray. I think that one’s losing ground, one from the Left, one from the
Right, but they both were talking about how most americans were feeling kind of
left behind, left out, and the like, and that no one was really speaking to it.
And when I met Trump, a lot of what he instinctively was saying would resonate
with that. So I had a lot of data that backed up what his instincts were saying,
and I thought, you know this guy could actually win. And part of when you’re representing campaigns, you like to pick winners. So I got to know him, and then
when he decided he was really going to seriously explore it, I set up that
operation, then he became a candidate, I was the counsel to the campaign, and
here we are today. So I thought he could win, and at the time in
Washington, everyone thought I was nuts. I mean they, I’ve been known to throw my
career away about every 18 months, we’re representing different politicians,
and I’m still going, and at that point, people thought, why are you
bothering with Trump? Why aren’t you doing, you know, one of the more regular
candidates? And I said, “Because I don’t think one of the regular candidates has
a chance of beating Hillary Clinton, but I think Donald Trump does. People thought
I was cuckoo, and here we are. Well… (Don:) It still might be cuckoo, but… (Bill): Yeah, do you really want to answer that question? (Don): Well, he did win. (Bill): That’s true. And there we have it. Here we are. So, but in the former, along those lines, in the former Trump Taj Mahal, there was a bar called Patti’s Saloon. Apparently. Really never was in that property, so I worked at the sands as a lifeguard. I couldn’t afford going down the Taj Mahal. But that was named after your uncle Paddy McGahn, and he was casino magnate Donald Trump’s lawyer for a very long time. And then he wasn’t. Just like that. Then there were the lawsuits. Paddy sued for fees, Donald returned fire, and sued back, alleging that Paddy
overcharged him on on his fees. It was not just businessman Trump’s modus operandi of turning on his vendors and people who
work for him. It was against your extended family. Did any of that register
in the back of your mind when you received a call asking if you wanted to
work for the Trump campaign? Well, it wasn’t really a call asking to work for the Trump campaign. But the concept, it’s coming up, and you ever think in the back of your mind… (Don): Look, I got along with him, and you know, with the risk of being sort of crass, I mean I got paid. I did fine. And, you know, there’s three sides to every story. You know, each side and
then sort of somewhere in between is the truth, and you know, at
that point, Pat had passed. He had told me a little bit about what happened. I was
too young at the time, as were you to really remember the details, so it really
wasn’t my concern, but you know it really goes back to, for those who are
really into the history of Atlantic City, there was a helicopter crash where the
Trump helicopter crashed, and the folks who had been Trump’s managers passed
away. Pat litigated the case, Trump trusted him with the case. Then the new
management came in and clashed with my uncle, and they were the ones that really
accused him of, you know, over-billing and they didn’t pay them, and they were
complaining about him all the time, and you know, that happens. So
it’s one of those things, and oddly though, when I first met with Mr. Trump, it wasn’t till much later on. Washington
Post actually had a profile on me where they were the first ones to bring this up, and apparently, it was news to everybody. And he said, “Wow.”
And he just was very praiseworthy of my uncle, and said, “Man, he was tough. He was a
tough marine, you know, he was the best thing I’ve ever had in Atlantic City, and
just poured it on thick, so that told me and my instinct that it was
really more between the management of the properties down here and my uncle, not so
much personal with with Trump was probably correct. But you know, that’s a
different generation, and a different time, and I’m a different guy. As the counsel to the campaign, what did you do? What were your responsibilities? Well, campaign lawyers have to pay attention to a lot of different things. The candidates have to do everything from
get on the ballot in all 50 states to filing personal financial disclosure
forms, disclosing their finances to complying with campaign finance laws, all
the material has to be reviewed for compliance, for everything from campaign
finance to copyright, you need to… if you’re doing mail, postal rate law,
telephones have telephone laws, so you have to be knowledgeable in a lot of
areas to actually do a campaign. Then for Presidentials, you have delegate
selection, which is the convention process, the lawyers tend to run that.
That was done by my folks, so it’s a very complicated thing to do, and it’s
not the sort of thing that you do really anywhere other than for a handful of
clients every four years at the Presidential level. But every campaign, to
a certain extent, is the same, so it’s the same basics of getting on the ballot, raising
money, spending money, and then if it’s close, you have a recount, if not, you declare victory, or you move on to the next one. Well, tell us about election night. Well, election night was a long night. I had thought we had a shot. Hillary Clinton going to Texas kind of told me we
had a shot, because she was not paying attention to the upper Midwest, and the sort of what we call the Rust Belt of this country. And Trump was surging there, and I remember it was probably two, three in the morning that
it became clear it looked like Trump was projected to win. As a lawyer, we had our
own operation that was separate and apart from the party going on upstairs.
We had a whole team of lawyers and operatives tracking everything. We had
people on airplanes, people in different states, we were preparing in case there
were recounts. It turns out, people forget this, there were three recounts in the
2016 Presidential Election. Fully litigated statewide recounts.
Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. So we instantly pivoted to managing
those, and making sure those were happening. So election night for a lawyer
is never really a celebration. Of all the campaigns I’ve done, all the politicians
I’ve represented, I’ve never been to a victory party. I’ve always been in a back
room somewhere preparing for the worst and assuming that something would go
wrong, we’d have to go to court the next day. So you never went to the victory party? No, nope, no. Watched it on TV. Governor Christie was was there. He
carried the mantle for New Jersey. Did he have that stunned look? No he did not. He was excited. Chris was excited that night. Everyone was excited. Meanwhile, I was panicking that there were gonna be recounts, and you
know, wherever there were ballots, and what was going on in this state, and that state. Just because the
media projects a winner, there’s still a whole underbelly that goes on
post-election. There’s canvassing of the ballots, there’s challenging ballots, there’s
something called provisional ballots now. It used to be that if you weren’t on the
voting rolls, and you showed up, you just couldn’t vote. If you didn’t
register to vote by a certain date before the election, you couldn’t vote.
Now, much more flexible, people have much more opportunity to vote, and now if
you’re not on the rolls or there’s a mistake, you can still vote a provisional
ballot, and then the fight is over whether they count, and that’s fought out
after the election, so sometimes elections you think are decided, but then there’s a whole pile of ballots that haven’t been counted yet. Well, you ought to move back to New Jersey, you could vote forever. Sometimes twice, so I hear. How did you end up being White House Counsel? President Elect asked me. It’s
really just that simple. It’s not a senate-confirmed position, he picks it, he
gets to pick his core team, and he decided that I should be his Counsel in
the White House. There’s no application process, no TV show. Yeah, but like how soon? Was it victory night? No, it actually wasn’t. It took a
little bit. It wasn’t really till right about Thanksgiving weekend that it was
announced. The assumption was it was going to be me. There’s a transition
operation that actually happens before the election. There’s various charts, and
that kind of thing, mapping out who would be who, and in all the charts, I was sort of
slotted in to be White House Counsel. (Bill): Now were those… (Don): But no one
bothered to ask me for a couple weeks. But originally, the transition was Chris Christie. Christie, yeah… (Bill): And then he wasn’t.
(Don): Well he wasn’t. I mean, Trump won, and then he shifted it over to
Mike Pence, who was going to be the Vice President. That was already decided. There’s a lot of books and reporting on what happened, and you can believe whatever you want to believe. There was a transition within the transition. Right, okay. (Don): But I was a constant. (Bill): You were a constant? (Don): Apparently. (Bill): Okay. So as as White House Counsel, please tell people what you do. Well, the Counsel to the President is a position that dates back to, I guess FDR and the
New Deal, first White House Counsel was a fellow who was a state legislator and
then a judge in New York. And originally, he was essentially the
speechwriter. The lawyer was the man with the pen, and he was a man with the turn
of phrase, and apparently, the first White House Counsel is the guy who coined “New
Deal.” He wrote the kind of New Deal speech. “The day which lives in infamy,” he you know
that was a you know… (Bill): The White House Council wrote that. (Don): Yeah, White House Counsel did that, and it was kind of one person. And back then, the
Attorney General was seen as sort of the President’s Lawyer, and all the legal
workers really done at the Department of Justice. That was the norm for decades.
You know, Kennedy’s White House Counsel was his speechwriter. And there was a
fellow named Clark Clifford under Johnson, who was much more of a lawyer
than speechwriter, but even then it was still the Attorney General that did the
work. All this changed with Watergate, and we don’t have to revisit that here, but you
know, the White House Counsel got caught in his own problems, and the Attorney
General had his own problems, and post-Watergate, there was a big push in
Washington for DOJ to be much more independent of the President. So post Watergate, the White House Counsel kind of filled
the gap that occurred between DOJ and the president when it came to giving
legal advice, so it evolved into a role where you’re essentially the principal
legal adviser to the President, and in theory, the last signature on something
for legal sign-off before the President acts. It varies in different
administrations how much role the White House Counsel has, but the real first
modern White House Counsel was a guy named Fred Fielding under President
Reagan. He had the job for about six years, and he really served as a role
model for how it functions. Your principal job is advising the
President on his powers under the Constitution or statutes. It’s not doing
personal law, it’s not worrying about his will or his estates, or that kind of thing.
You represent the President in his capacity as President. And this was, you
know, for some it’s kind of a theoretical concept. Having represented a lot of
members of the House and Senate, it’s very similar in that whether you’re acting in
official capacity, personal capacity, or campaign capacity, I would represent the
President in his capacity as President and advise him on, essentially Presidential
authority, in addition to all sorts of other things like contracts and other
things that concern the Executive Branch, but that’s the basic gist of the job. Well, did you have an organization? Who is your client? Was it the office? The president. (Bill): So, it’s the President, whoever that may be.
(Don): Capital P. Well, right but the only one picked me. So, yeah I’d like to think George Washington was my client, but you represent the President. One past White House Counsel told me you’re sort of the institutional conscience. You have
to think about past precedents, what the future precedents will be and you have
to act kind of not in the in the heat of the moment, but you have to think more
long-term, and think about that you’re really speaking for the Presidency as an
institution, not the particular man, but the reality is a single man is the
President. So the president, capital P is the client. Okay. What about the Executive
Office of the President? That also, you provide Legal for that. You also help
the White House staff with their ethical obligations and things. There is
a separate legal office that’s actually… The Executive Office of the President has
its own General Counsel who reports up to the White House Counsel. (Bill): Okay. (Don): So
the White House Counsel’s Office varies between maybe 25 lawyers to 50 to
60 lawyers, depending on how busy the workload is. I started out with about 25
lawyers that answer to me. In the White House Counsel’s Office, there was about
10 in the Executive Office of the President’s legal office that reported
to me, and then all the cabinet officials have their General Counsel’s and legal
staffs and they sort of dot lines. We call it dotted line, to me for
sort of legal support and decisions. If there was sort of a disagreement among
the lawyers in the administration, oftentimes, the White House Counsel breaks the tie. So you handle ethics, HR issues. (Don): Right. (Bill): Security clearances. (Don): Right.
(Bill): The executive orders, you know, you’re the last sign-off. Do you actually draft the
executive orders? Or does somebody else draft them? Not really. Usually, they come up from
the agencies, and the the cabinet official that has the subject matter
expertise and that usually they draft it, and then it goes to a process where it
goes through an interagency process and everybody kind of weighs in. The White
House Counsel’s not sitting there drafting executive orders, usually. There are times where you do. There are, you know, short ones and they’re our thing,
particularly on the national security side, where things are on a need-to-know
basis. Sometimes you do end up drafting the documents yourself,
because it’s not the sort of thing you want to tell the whole world about before you do it. I remember, during a time when there were issues
regarding the security clearances. Questions regarding ethics of certain
individuals and everything else but I remember you talking to me about one day
about something that you were complaining about, and that was the
contract for the White House Easter Eggs. Yeah, it was a tough one. We had the Easter
Egg Hunt, Easter Egg Roll, and there was a day where something was going on
internationally, and I had to look at the Easter Egg contract, and we had some
edits, and then I had to go down to the Situation Room to do, you know, sort
of grown-up stuff, and you know, the poor person doing the easter egg contract was
just cursing my name couldn’t find me and I must be slacking, you know. So
that’s the interesting thing about the job, is you go from worrying about, you
know, Easter eggs, to the most sensitive national security issues in the blink of
an eye. Not to diminish the Easter Egg thing. It is a government contracting
process, and every year there’s always somebody who tries to, you know, make a
little too much on the Eggs so you have to be careful with that. Of course, you know, here in Atlantic City, we all laugh at that but you know it’s not funny. You can get caught. That’s no yolk. That’s… oh boy… (Laughter.) Thank you. (Don): Don’t thank me. (Bill): I do weddings, Bar
Mitzvahs… His second show at 9, cash bar, though. Come back. Remember your servers. Is Twitter now an official vehicle for policy statements of the President? It can be, it can be. His is a personal feed. But legally, it’d really bore everybody. It’s
actually maintained for purposes of the Presidential Records Act. This was a law
put in place after Watergate where records of the White House and the
Executive Branch were maintained. They ultimately go to the archives, and
someday, they’re released. So the Twitter feed is captured, and even if
it’s deleted, it’s still memorialized for the future, and the archives will decide
what goes public and not public. There was some litigation over it,
and a court decided that because the President did use it to make certain
public policy announcements, he couldn’t block various users as like
regular Twitter users can do, so it’s kind of official, but it’s
technically a personal one, but it is compliant with the applicable Federal
laws that apply to any other Federal record. Well, when you became White House
Counsel, or any time during that, do you ever call up any of
the prior White House Counsels? (Don): All the time. (Bill): And say, “is this normal? What what do I do?” Sure, and I think I think my predecessors did too,
so I had a great group of prior White House Counsels who were very helpful,
and I thought that they gave me good advice going in, and it was good to have
them close by, and I would stay in communication with them. Both sides of
the aisle. Yeah that was my next question. Yeah, yeah. It’s one of
these things where if you’re thinking about the Presidency, you’ll want to know
different points of view, and how different people did the job. And when I
when I got the job, what I did was I went around and met with some of my
predecessors, and he hates when I say this, but the first one I met with was
Bob Bauer who was Obama’s White House Counsel for a bit, and also his Campaign
Counsel. I’ve known Bob forever. He’s older, but we have a similar
practice background, and that kind of thing. And he gave me a lot of good
advice on how to do the job, and then I met with Fred Fielding, and A.B. Culvahouse, who was Reagan’s Counsel at the end. Boyden Gray was Bush’s White
House Counsel, and a number of others gave me other advice along the way. So
Neil Eggleston was Obama’s last. Neil was very helpful, as he was going out the
door, so it’s one of these things that you just don’t show up and think you
know it all. I really put some time in to sort of get a sense of what came before
me, and I tried to do things that people thought worked for them, and tried to
avoid the things they said that didn’t work for them. You said earlier that you were the lawyer to the President with a capital P. (Don): Right. Lawyers have several
rules, and we learned this in law school and ethics. They are advocates. They are
advisors. And they are scriveners. And today, you’ve spoken about your role in
two of them. You know, you were as an advisor, and as a Scrivener, I guess.
On the contract, is that mainly what the focus is? Is the White House
Council ever an advocate? You’re an advocate. You know, sometimes I… people
would say in editorials and whatnot, you know, you represent the
people. And I would say it’s not quite right. I represent article two of the
Constitution. The people are in the white dome. Right? That was what your dad did. Represent the people, right? And under our system, we have three branches of
government. And I’d be an advocate for Presidential power. If
Congress had an oversight letter, my office would handle it, and we’d put up our best fight for the Executive Branch. Within the Executive
Branch, not everyone agreed on the path forward. Oftentimes, there was
disagreement over the applicable legal framework, and I would have to be the one
trying to develop the legal framework in a way that would allow the President to
make a sound decision. So you are an advocate for your respective powers,
authorities, and and privileges. It’s not the sort of lawyer that typically goes
to court and argues. There’s a TV show, Designated Survivor. Fascinating show,
in that it was completely preposterous, but the White House Counsel there is
routinely going to Federal District court and arguing motions. It’s not
really what the White House Counsel does. Department of Justice is really the
outward facing lawyers for the administration. They’re the ones that go
to court. White House Counsel tends to be the one inward facing within the
government being an advocate for the President within the agencies, and behalf
of Congress on the separation of powers. Well, you said
also that you represent the President, but not in a personal capacity. (Don): Right. (Bill): Well, how do you tell the guy who hired you that you’re not really his lawyer in
a personal sense? Well, there’s apparently a variety of
techniques to do that. I tend to be a direct guy. You know, it’s the same way
any lawyer has to tell. Every lawyer has had situations like this. Particularly, if you represent anyone in a corporation, or in a union, or in any kind of
organization. Every lawyer that represents any kind of organization was
hired by someone. Maybe the CEO, maybe the President of the Union, maybe the
president of the Trade Association, maybe the President of the non-profit. And at a
certain point, that person will probably say I really want to do this. And you’re
gonna have that awkward conversation where you have to say, under the bylaws, you got
to take this to the board. And then they’ll say, but I hired you.
That’s right to tell you, under the bylaws, you have to take this to the
board. So any lawyers who have done any kind of representation of entities, this will
resonate as true that there’s times where you have to say, “Look, I hear you.
But this is my view of your power under whatever your particular legal
framework is you’re operating under, which is whether it’s corporation, or
union, or trade association, or the President United States. Also, Senate
members have the same thing. You know, they have limits on what they
can do under the ethics rules, and for years, I advised them and there were
times where they really really really really wanted to do something, and their
Chief of Staff would call and say, “Well, you know the Congressman
really wants to do this.” And I would say, “I really wanted a reindeer when I was
five years old, but I didn’t get it. I got over it. You can’t do it.”
So I kind of had a reputation as being someone who really was not shy about
trying to say, here’s what you can and can’t do. And, you know, some people, that’s
not how they do it. They kind of mouse around, and that kind of leads to problems. Was your ability to be direct… Were you ever afraid that, hey look, they may not like what they’re hearing, and then I’m out of a job? (Don): Look, I’ve been in DC since 1995. That’s every day. That’s every day, representing people in
the in the political fray, whether it’s an Elected Official, or their consultant,
or their Chief of Staff, or their pollster, you know, my whole career has been saying, “That’s probably not the way you want to do that.” Now, what I try to do is then say, “Look, I understand where you’re trying to go,
let’s try it this way. You just don’t want to come in and say, “Oh no, no. I can’t do that. And the thing about advising the President is that under
Article 1 of the Constitution, which is where Congress kind of is born, that’s one of the numerated powers. It lists what they do. Taxing power, copyright, lists. Executive power does not have a list. It’s
Executive power, whatever that means, and that has been something that has ebbed and
flowed for over 200 years, and it’s been a constant battle between the Congress
and the President, the President and the court, Congress and the courts, and it’s
just part of that fabric where there is no manual on the shelf in the White
House that gives you the right answer, so you have to kind of, you know, do the best
you can. So, you know, it’s one of these things where a lot of it turns on
your view of the Constitution and Presidential authority vis-à-vis the
other branches, and part of the calculation is what the other branches are going to say or not say, so it’s not as simple as just reading a will, and saying okay, well Joe gets this much, and Pat gets that much. There’s
a lot more to it when you’re advising the President. And I get that. By presidents who tend to be as a whole, forceful personalities. They are. They wouldn’t be President. There’s something special about someone who gets up and looks themselves in the mirror, and say, “I’m gonna be President of the United States.” I’ve
never done that, I mean, have you? I mean, you’ve said, “I could be a Congressman.” Sorry,
but the idea like I’m gonna win the big one, that’s not… That’s not a usual person. But when they hear advice that they don’t like or they don’t want to hear, I mean… (Don): That’s life in the big city. (Bill): That’s life in the big city. Well, in providing advice, should political considerations take
play in any part in providing legal advice? You know, the correct answer
is no, you should just give the legal analysis, but part of the legal analysis
when it comes to constitutional law, particularly when it comes to dealing with
the Congress, has to factor in political considerations. You have to think about
the personalities, what are they going to question, what are they not going to
question, and is that politics, or is that law, or is it a hybrid of the two? I think
it’s a hybrid of the two. The lawyers shouldn’t be playing politics. We shouldn’t- the lawyers should not be a policymaker of the sort, like
the Domestic Policy Council is, and getting in there and giving their advice on
what the tax code ought to say. It’s not the role of the lawyer. The role of the
lawyer is to give legal advice. Example, you know, on the trade trade issue, there were people in the White House who… who are more, you know, who have one
view, another group has another view, The thing I’m proud of is that both camps
thought I was their guy. They thought I agreed with them, because I was just
trying to call the balls and strikes, but I was not in there putting my thumb on
the scale, you know, cooking the law to favor one side or the other. Policy folks
have to fight it out, the President makes a decision on that. That’s not the lawyer’s
job. Lawyer’s job is to say, “Look, you either have that authority under the
statute of the Constitution, or you don’t. And you’re not supposed to play. And if
people think you’re playing politics with your legal advice, they stop
listening to you as a lawyer, and then you just become another voice in the room, and then things tend to go south from there. Well, how would you describe
your legal philosophy, or your approach to the law? You know, that came up once. I had someone actually say, “I don’t understand why you’re involved in this. You’re just a
lawyer.” And I said, “Well, because it’s government, and government is one of laws,
and the governing legal framework is really important, and that’s why I’m
involved, and the policy choice is not mine. And then I said, “Look, at the
end of the day, you have a President who ran on, in part, a certain kind of judge, a
certain kind of judicial philosophy,. Remember, Justice Scalia had passed, there
was a vacancy. And President Trump on the campaign trail talked a lot about
Supreme Court, to put out a list of potential people he’d put on the Supreme
Court. And I said, I remember in a meeting I said, “It should not come as a
surprise that the White House Counsel’s legal views is going to be very similar to
that of people named Scalia, and Thomas, and Alito, and Roberts, and Jackson, and
Rehnquist, and you’re probably not going to have me come in and say, “You know, I
think Elena Kagan’s right on this one.” So my views reflect those of the first
group of names that I mentioned, and that’s kind of my style of reading
law and reading the Constitution. Well, you are a member of the
Federalist Society, considered one of their heroes. Well, if you say so. (Bill): What is it? Federalist Society is a group
of lawyers and law students founded in the early to mid-80’s by a couple law
professors and law students. One of the founders was Antonin Scalia, before being on
the Supreme Court. David McIntosh, who ended up being a Congressman from Indiana, was
another one of the founders. And it was a reaction to what was seen as activist
judicial opinions that seemed to be more policy based, not legal based. So it was a society that was designed to be a counterweight to what had been the
conventional wisdom on campuses and among scholars to try to return
reading law to actually reading the law. The texts, tons of Constitutional Law,
really trying to get into the original understanding of what the Constitution was supposed to do. And it’s grown by leaps and bounds over the
years. I was the President of my chapter in law school, and had been a member ever
since, and it’s much more in fashion now to be part of the
Federalist Society. But it’s not a partisan group, it does not file briefs in court, unlike the ABA. ABA takes positions in
court now. Federal Society does not do that. They have national conferences, they
give continuing legal education. A number of judges come and moderate panels, and
they tend to have people on both sides. I remember when I was young, coming to some
of the earlier earlier conferences in the 90’s, they had the ACLU lawyer up
there, they had from a range of people across the spectrum, so it’s a lawyer group, you pay dues, and you know, we kind of fashion ourselves
as the textualist types. The textualist, and they had a great influence in assisting you and identifying candidates to go on the bench. Right, well you know, I’m a member, been a member so I don’t know. I didn’t see it as them assisting. I kind of of saw it as all one… They are they, they
are me, I am them, and everyone on my team I think was a member of
the Federalist Society. So it wasn’t like it was some outside group that we had to
go call and get their advice. We were very much of that school of
thought. But yeah, they helped with the network, and you get to know people over
the years, and a lot of the people who ended up being on the bench because
President Trump appointed them were people I had met, or someone in
my office had met over the years, oftentimes the Federalist Society
convention. So it creates sort of a national network of talent, and
so you get to know who’s who and you get older, and next thing you know, we are. We’re bleeding into another topic area which, we’re
skipping over one, but that’s okay. We’ll talk about judicial nominations.
Perhaps more than any White House Counsel in the history of our Republic,
you were the architect of changing the face of our Federal Judiciary. You
spearheaded the Nomination and Confirmation of over 107
Federal Judges. Over 40 of those were to the Circuit Court of Appeals, and there
are only 179 slots. The number of active conservative
judges on the bench increased from 40 percent to 51 percent. All of them young,
most of them conservative, and they will all be there for life. This is not to
mention the two very significant appointments to the Supreme Court:
Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. What was your approach to identifying
individuals to be nominated? What was my approach? Well, you know, it’s
to sort of give life to what the President wanted to do. I mean, ultimately,
he makes the decision I mean, it’s very kind to say all that, but my name’s not
on the Commission. I don’t make the appointment, the President does. I just
advise him on what I think, and I was very fortunate that he put a tremendous
amount of trust in me to come up with the names, and do the vetting, and think
about the strategy to get them confirmed and the like. I think that what the President
was looking for were folks who wanted to read the law as it was passed, not what
they wanted it to be, and sort of return more to a fundamental textualist
approach to the law, and not be someone who saw themselves as social avatars of
change or the like. And I, frankly there’s a generational shift there. I think there
were the Bork hearings or something that inspired me in a lot of ways to go
to law school. And Bork is a former Solicitor
General DC Circuit Judge nominated by President Reagan for the Supreme Court,
was defeated in the Senate. Joe Biden was the chair of the Senate Judiciary
Committee at the time, and kind of orchestrated the defense, and the
opposition to Bork. And a lot of what happened in the Bork hearings kind of
caused a big bang, and I think if people came of age legally post-Bork, they had a
certain view of the law that didn’t really exist in the mainstream so much
before Bork. And so, what the President really wanted were folks that
are sort of post-Borkian constitutionalists and textualists. And he
also liked folks that were not of DC. The old model to succeed was, go to a fancy school, get a clerkship, and go to the Department of Justice, and
right fancy memos, and hang around Washington DC, and then you end up being
put on the bench. Funny thing happened over the past 10 years or so. A lot of
folks, they might have been to DC a couple years, but they moved home, and
they maybe became state judges. State Supreme Court Justices. They may
have done appellate work for their State Attorneys General. They may have set up
appellate practices. So you had people in state capitals doing really cutting-edge
stuff, and they were not of Washington, and that was very appealing to the
President. And a lot of these folks are now circuit judges because they were
actually moved home on the field of play, and actually showed some
gumption when they when they took on some tough cases, which is the third
thing President really liked people who have been on the field to play. It was
clear where they were on issues, they were not afraid of a fight, they
represented clients, and you know, there was a conventional wisdom
for a while in DC, you didn’t want to nominate people with a so-called paper
trail, because then people knew where you were, and you can get attacked
by the Senate. You might not get confirmed. President Trump really wanted the
opposite of that. He wanted to know who he was nominating, and he
thought the American people should know who he was nominating, which why he put
out a list of potential justices on the campaign. I mean, he was very open. Very
open on what he wanted. Yes, while he was very open on what he wanted, he
issued a list of 11… (Don): The first was 10. (Bill): There was 11. I counted them. (Don): The second list was 11. (Bill): The second was 11? (Don): Trust
me. (Bill): Neil Gorsuch wasn’t on there. (Don): He was on the second list. (Bill): He was on the second list? (Don): Yeah, Neil was on the second list. (Bill): Kavanaugh wasn’t on the list. (Don): He was not. He was on the third list. We did a list after after we were… (Bill): He was on the third list. (Don): Brett was on the third list. It was Amy Barrett, and a couple others. So, how did he how did he come to be selected? (Don): Who? (Bill): Neil Gorsuch. He knew you. Good enough, right? We double-dated for the prom. (Don): Georgetown Prep.
(Bill): That’s right. Man of South Jersey here. Justice Gorsuch was already well-known
among lawyers as a very, very smart guy very good litigator, practiced at a
top-flight boutique law firm. He was at the Department of Justice under
President Bush, and was a known entity. He was put on the Tenth Circuit, which is
kind of out by Colorado at the tail end of President Bush’s second term, and had
a fantastic record as a Judge. His writings were superb. When we talked to
other petite people who were potentially in the mix, we asked the question. If it’s
not you, who would you think is? And everybody else said Neil Gorsuch.
Substantively, he demonstrated a commitment to the law, to the rule of law,
the ability to read legal text in a way that resonated with me and others. He
also had a very skeptical view of the bureaucratic administrative state. His
writings were clear that he thought the elected officials make the decisions in
the country, not necessarily bureaucrats. He was very skeptical of a variety of legal
doctrines, short-handed at Chevron and others, a case about Chevron, where
courts defer to decisions of agencies and they don’t second-guess them. And
Judge Gorsuch wrote an opinion where he thought that that was probably
unconstitutional. It’s up to judges to say what the law is and read the legal
texts, not unelected officials. So that all resonated, and ultimately, you know, he
was the best guy for the job. And he had the paper trail, great writing,
had the intellect, had the credentials. And he looks the part.
(Bill): He does look the part. And he is Mr. Rogers. He, you know, he’s
like that all the time. Well you just raised something, and I
have a theory in theory. I’ve had a theory for quite some time. When these confirmation hearings were happening, and there was much discussion
over Roe vs. Wade, and that this Judge or that Judge, or this Justice or that
Justice was being selected specifically that they could get in there for Roe
vs. Wade. And it was always my theory, and maybe you could prove it or disprove
it, that I did not believe that Roe vs. Wade played any role in their identification. It was all about Chevron, it was all about their position on taking a strict construction on and paring back the administrative state. That’s your theory? (Bill): That’s my theory. (Don): Is there a question in there? (Bill): Yeah. Well, to what extent did Roe vs. Wade take… Well, you know, there was a time where I
think judges were picked more for certain positions on certain issues kind
of litmus test issues where they were quizzed on certain particular cases and
that kind of thing. (Bill): We have a Judge present tonight who was the cause célèbre over that, and who’s… The litmus test stopped. If you remember
the Reagan litmus test during this Judge’s confirmation hearings, that was
brought up, it was raised. Well, that was then. We tried to take a more holistic
view, and get a real sense of where they stood on how to read legal texts, how they
viewed the separation of powers, the role of government versus the individual, and
more big picture issues. The view was if you got those right,
everything else kind of takes care of itself, because your thinking is such
that we know you’re going to give us serious consideration on all sides of
an argument. And you’re going to approach it in a way as a judge would approach it,
not someone who was trying to please this constituency or that constituency,
so it there was. You know, the Senate asks these questions. Anybody would ask
you how would you vote on a particular case. So we don’t. We never did. So they
could say, nope. Nobody ever asked me. Senators don’t ask, and you just get more of a sense of their philosophy, and how they
approach law, and look, the fact is is that things change. Byron White was put
on by Kennedy, since it was he’d be good on civil rights, and he was. He ended up
becoming a conservative icon on the court. Democrats said, “Oh my god, I can’t
believe Kennedy did it did that.” You know, and White dissented, my recollection is,
in Roe. And this happens. Hugo Black was put on by FDR. A Senator from Alabama. He also
became someone who is viewed much more as a conservative, because he was very strict
on statutory language. Being a legislator, he was very particular when it came to
reading statutes, and you know, that’s… Judges are there for life. The issues
change, they evolve, they go away, they come into fashion, they come out of
fashion, but the way a judge approaches the law and the way he thinks ought not
evolve. He should be a consistent umpire, so to speak, and whatever size of the
strike zone he calls should remain unchanged, regardless of how much society
changes around it. Well, the confirmation process for Justice Kavanaugh was one of the most contentious and controversial in history. You were at
the center of it. It doesn’t feel like I was in the center, but I was the guy behind him. (Bill): I’m sorry, you literally had a front row seat. Right. All 50-year old Irishman look alike. We’re usually confused. How do you feel that the about
the how the confirmation process for Justice Kavanaugh played out? How do I feel about it? Well, he’s on the court so I like that. How it played out, I
didn’t like it all. I thought it was really, it was a disgrace. It was
not how it should be run to try to spring what was sprung. Those kind of
allegations at the eleventh hour, I thought was not good. It wasn’t all
that different from what they tried to do to Clarence Thomas. I mean, he had gone
through his hearings, and then there was an accusation at the end there.
This was different in that the accusation was regarding alleged conduct
that happened long, long, long before. And, you know, I know Kavanaugh. I’ve known
him a long time. We’re not really social friends, but I’ve known him
professionally. He actually swore me in to the Federal Election Commission so I
followed his work I read all his opinions. Big fan of his body of work, and he had been in DC his whole career. He’d been through a million
background checks in the highest levels of government, had been in positions where
people had had done opposition research on him. Never, never, never an inkling of
anything. And then, you know, kaboom. It’s amazing as you go and meet with Senators
before the hearings, nothing was ever raised. You have confidential
sessions where people get to raise questions. Nothing was ever raised. It was
only when it became clear that the there were enough votes to confirm him that,
you know, phase two began. So it was really a shame. It did not reflect well on where we are, and I think the question is is this a new
norm? Is this how it’s always going to be? And I hope not. I hope not. That was my next question. The fear is that it is. So if you look back
in history, let’s go back not too far, but let’s go back to, you know,
current Supreme Court justices. People forget this. Justice Breyer was a First
Circuit Judge before he was on the Supreme Court. He was nominated by President
Carter in the early winter of 1980 after the election. He was confirmed
after Reagan was elected as a Carter appointee. Now, part of it was he was
known to the Senate, he had been Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which
was run by Senator Kennedy at the time. At that point in history, he didn’t mess
with Senator Kennedy, but still he got on a Circuit Court without a bunch of
acrimony. Most of the DC Circuit Judges under Reagan were throwing unanimous
consent. A couple had votes, but even Bork and Thomas went through rather easily
for their Circuit Judgeships. But then something changed in the late 80’s, and it
became very contentious, and it started to get kind of dirty. Then in the
90’s, the Republicans I think took a step back, and Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer
got to the Supreme Court without a lot of the sucker-punching that had happened in the past couple confirmations. And then in the 2000’s, things
kind of heated up again where the Senate started messing with the rules, and kind
of changing. There was a time where for Supreme Court justices, there would not
be a filibuster. People forget Clarence Thomas got through with less than 60
votes. But there was what’s called a Cloture Vote, meaning enough
senators allowed to go to the final vote. The Democrats didn’t block him on
procedural grounds. They let it go to a final vote. That began to change really in the 2000’s. Jeffords switched parties, Senator
Jeffords. So Democrats took over the Senate, and they instantly started
locking down Judicial Selection. And the sort of comedy that used to be the norm
in the Senate really started to fall apart. At one point Senator Reid is the
leader in the Senate, Democrat from Nevada, changed the rules and got rid of
the ability of the minority party to block any Judges. And from there, this
thing has now exploded where it’s just all-out warfare. Well now, there’s no more blue slips for… Well there is. If there weren’t blue slips, you’d
have full District Judges in New Jersey. (Don): Well, let’s so we
don’t speak code, a blue slip is a tradition in the Senate. Literally, it’s a
blue slip of paper where home state Senators return it to the Chair of the
Judiciary Committee, and then the Judiciary Committee Chairman takes up
the nomination. Some chairmen will not take up the nomination unless the home
State Senator will have returned blue slips. For Circuit Courts, it’s never been
an absolute veto. Sometimes, there’s been a couple Chairmen who decided it is. In
the 2000’s, Chairman Leahy, Democrat from Vermont decided it was an absolute veto
for President Bush’s nominees, so a lot of those got blocked.
Not all chairmen have done that, but for District Courts, if your home State
Senators do not really approve of the choices, they’re not going to go anywhere.
Some states, we had a lot of luck where we got the slate filled. New York, we did
quite well. Illinois, we did quite well. California’s coming along, New Jersey, no district court judges. Well, right now, we are under siege. Our Federal
Judges in New Jersey are under siege. They have some of the highest workloads
in the nation. They have all of the pharmaceutical products liability actions, patent actions… (Don): A lot of multidistrict. Every night, my email is getting flooded with with
the case filings. Cases are taking longer, and some say that the
Court just can’t keep up with the massive caseloads that keep growing every day. So why don’t we have replacement Judges? Well, it certainly isn’t because of me. I tried. We got a Third Circuit Judge tied to New
Jersey, Paul Matey. We have a US Attorney, but anything else, and that was done not
really through the Senate, that was a statute that allows the Attorney General
to appoint the US Attorney, and that if the Chief Judge then confirms him, that person’s the US Attorney. Just had no luck with your Senators. I tried, being
from New Jersey, I deviated from my usual plan, and I tried to really
negotiate with them, and come up with some kind of compromise and it just
didn’t go anywhere. So, it is what it is, but you know, oddly,
you go up north, and I was able to work a deal with Chuck Schumer.
Illinois worked out well. Dick Durbin was was quite easy to deal with, and we were very candid. We worked out a deal where we got some folks we liked, he got
some folks he liked from the District Court, and even California after some
time, got going. New Jersey stands out as an outlier where it’s
unfortunate because it is a very busy state. A lot of complicated litigation
and look it’s not ideological litigation. It’s not like a state that’s passing
cutting-edge social issue stuff. What your District Judges are going to be
doing are injunctions and that kind of thing. It’s a court for people who have,
you need a work ethic, complicated litigation, pharmaceuticals, not the kind
of thing that gets, you know, people all fired up on on social issues. So it
should have been something that could have been, should a win, could have been,
done. But it just wasn’t done, and the home State Senators, if they don’t agree, it’s dead in the water. Do you know the status now? Dead in the water, best I can tell. I don’t know, we, I mean, we have suggested, when I was in, we
suggested names, we put people in background, you know, the President. Last I heard, he’s prepared to make nominations, but if the Senate,
particularly the home State Senators, throw up a roadblock, and say they oppose the nominee, it doesn’t go anywhere. So it’s not
really fair for people to nominate them, knowing that they’re not really gonna
even get a hearing. It was widely reported that you strongly advised
against the instruction of the President’s personal lawyers to submit
to questioning by the Special Counsel. It is also widely reported that
you were directed to submit to that questioning anyway. At that point,
what’s your obligation? Well, wasn’t sure where you’re going with that, I thought
my answer was going to be I can’t talk about day-to-day decisions
and all that because of Privilege, but really, lawyers work for clients, and the
Privilege belongs to the client, and it’s not really up to the lawyer. So if the
client says go testify, or whatnot, then that’s what you do. So it’s not really up
to the lawyer to make such decisions. So my role is to follow the direction. So at that point, you show up, you know, you’re a lawyer for a client… (Don): Right. (Bill): Are you an advocate?
Are you… No, you’re a fact witness at that point, where you’re asked what happened, and you have to say what happened, you’re not there to make a
legal argument, you’re there to just recount what happened if you get
in that situation, and you know, it’s rare it happens. It happens more in the
government and in private practice I suppose, but you know sometimes it does
happen. It happens in corporations sometimes too, or the General Counsel
may be called as a witness based on what happened at a board meeting, or it’s that
kind of thing, and the company may decide that the General Counsel is the best one, or someone who has to testify, so it’s not unprecedented.
But it doesn’t happen every day. But you have to… it’s ultimately not your decision. You have to take your direction from elsewhere. Well, you ultimately left the job as White House Counsel. (Don): Right. Everyone does. Term limits, if nothing else was about to happen. Well, I read the
Twitter feed. After you left the Executive Office of the President, who was no
longer your client, what are your ethical obligations to your former
client under the rules that govern all attorneys? Well, you have to maintain your
duty to loyalty and confidentiality, and whatnot. Even to pass clients. That’s basic law for lawyers, so merely because someone’s no longer your
client, that doesn’t mean you all of a sudden can go and start telling tales,
and talking. I mean that’s just not… That’s not how it works. So it’s the same, it’s really an unchanged obligation. Well, where there is a question over what your
obligations are to your former client, who should decide what definitively, what those obligations are? You, the courts, or your former client? It’s a good question.
I’m sure there’s lots of law view articles on this, and people argue
different ways, but I think the basic answer is there’s a process for this, and
it really depends who’s trying to get the testimony, and if it’s a
private person, there’s one way to do that, if it’s another Branch of
government, there’s ways to litigate or compel, and all that. And
I think it varies depending on the situation, but ultimately, it’s not the
job of the lawyer to be his own lawyer and decide whether or not whether he’s
obligated to testify. It has to come from beyond, and when you have a bar card
ultimately you answer to the courts and the court orders tend to be viewed
as the final word. So that’s one potential decider in that. But it
certainly is not the attorney. Why did you decide to leave the White House?
Besides besides the Twitter feed. well Well, the Twitter feed was memorializing kind
of what already happened. And look, you take these jobs not because you’re gonna be there forever. There was
an old time consultant that I met when I was young, and he told me, you know, you
take these jobs in Washington, your mail’s labeled occupant, you’re not there
forever. There’s somebody there before you, there’ll be somebody there after you.
You try to do what you can while you can. The average tenure of White House
Counsels is, I think it’s about 13 months, because it’s an intense job, and
it’s a pretty high burnout job, so I went in thinking 18 months to two years was
probably what I was going to do, and I did just under two years. So it was
I got to the point where I felt like I did all I can do, and it was time to go
back, and get reacquainted with things like sunlight and things like that,
because I get to the office before the Sun came up, I’d come home long after the
Sun went down, and I’m already kind of pale, so I wasn’t looking too good. Not
that it look any better now but, you know, you just you do it while you can, and
then you decide it’s time, it’s just, I’ve done what I can, it’s time to
time to do something different. We’re getting into our last topic area. Your
perspectives on DC. Washington is a bit of a crazy place right now. Do you think
that we can ever return to a time of negotiation compromise and
cooperation? Vis-à-vis Ronald Reagan and Tip
O’Neill. Maybe. Maybe. It’s not going to happen overnight. I think when the people
are operating from different premises, it’s tough to then negotiate on the
details. I think there was much more of a common premise that previous generations
are operating from, and it may be easier to then negotiate. If we all agree we’re
supposed to pave the roads, we can negotiate on, you know, how much it’s
going to cost. I think we still kind of agree we’re all supposed to pave the
roads. Maybe not. But there are issues now where the predicate assumptions
are so baked in it becomes really tough to have compromise. A lot has changed. This is something I talked to your father about a lot. What Washington was like when he was there, what it’s like now, he wasn’t a hundred
percent party-line. He always, he always thought about his District, his
constituents, South Jersey, spent a lot of time in intellectual property. That’s
not the kind of thing that really gets you re-elected, but intellectual
curiosity as a lawyer, he did a lot of good updating copyright law. Did a lot in
criminal law. A lot of Democrats were you know, not big on law and order, and
criminal justice reform, and the like. But he took the subject
matter seriously, and did it, and he didn’t vote a hundred percent with Tip
O’Neill. And that was that was considered okay. Nowadays, it’s a little bit tougher
to be someone like that. They’re kind of all gone. DC has changed. I didn’t understand it socially. When I first moved there, a
lot more people lived there who actually were in the House. A lot of members, they
don’t move their families there anymore. That’s in a lot of ways healthy, in other
ways it’s unhealthy, because you really don’t socialize with people. And if you
socialize with people, I think it’s a lot easier to get along with them and kind
of see where they’re coming from, and get their perspective. When you don’t see
them anywhere other than on the field of play, on the floor of the House, because
it’s much easier to become… sort of various camps, and that kind of thing. I
also think that, and this is something that is probably going to be a
little provocative, but the TV cameras being everywhere I think has made things
much more difficult. Transparency has been great. C-span has been great.
Wire-to-wire coverage of every deliberation and House hearing, and
committee hearing, and every Senate hearing is great. But it causes people to
play to the cameras a little bit, and it causes people I think to then put
on a little bit more of a show than they would if the cameras weren’t there. The House
and Senate used to function a lot more away from the glare of the cameras. I’m
not talking about the media as in the gallery. The media is there, they can
cover it on a day-to-day basis, but as soon as you make it into sort of a TV
show, I think it changes how people behave, and it makes it real tough for
people to then compromise, because people start playing to the camera. I saw this
with Supreme Court confirmations. The nominees go around and meet with
Senators individually. Those meetings are fascinating, they’re substantive,
there’s a real exchange. Senators are prepared, their staff has prepared them,
some Senators do it on their own, the nominee’s prepared, and it’s a fascinating
discussion that in a lot of ways I wish the American people could see, because it
would really change their view of how Washington works, because at that
point, it’s really working. Then when you get into the hearing, and the cameras
come on, and the white lights come on, and all that, It’s not really live, you know, it’s not really a live show at that point. It’s very scripted
and stilted, and that happens in legislation too, where people just get
out there and they feel like they have to do a certain thing, because it’s
what’s expected and they just can’t be real. So if we could, if maybe people could
socialize a little bit more, maybe they could have more of a
common understanding. But when the only time you talk to somebody is in a
format like this, it becomes impossible to say, “Can’t we work this out?” Well let’s back up for a second. Were you saying that during some of those
Confirmation hearings, on the pre-meetings with the Senators, you would
have a cordial, a good give-and-take? (Don): Both sides of the aisle. (Bill): And then the
lights would go on, and then you would have some of these attacks, and the like? (Don): Sure. Was there any heads up in the meeting, “hey look I’m I’m clear…?” Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, the Senators are, you know, they’re all
serious people, and you get a sense of where they’re coming from, and you
understand they’re going to oppose you. So you know how to prepare, and I say
it’s a dry run, but you know, they’re all civil and for the most part polite, and you know, it’s sitting in a small space, and it’s much more
collegial than when you’re sitting and it’s a little chair, and there’s
people up in a big dais, and there’s lights, and all that kind of thing, so
it’s a whole different environment once you sort of put it into the big stage. Well, quickly I want to talk about Remember there were Supreme Court justices got on the court without even hearings I mean this is – the modern hearing is something that really has been driven by television even if you go back and watch the Thomas hearings or the Bork hearings Thomas, Bork that – chair not unlike this in that era sat in a with a table and the senator sat at a similar table the same height maybe to the edge of the stage and it was much closer. Over time the Senate has kind of built its up its seats and the the – the nominees seems to be in a kiddy chair and it just is it’s it’s a whole different dynamic um, you know and it’s visually it’s
impressive but when you look at older hearings it’s a much tighter environment
and you know when you’re for me to you it’s much tougher to get nasty than if
you know somebody in the third row stands up and starts yelling right
proximity I think also breeds a little more collegiality well, um, in parliamentary systems um mmm like England the uh, the citizens select a party to represent them in the legislature as we saw in Brexit, individual members are generally not at liberty to vote against
their party and if they do they will ultimately lose their seat or lose their
party support and lose their seat. There is rarely any need for compromise in these
systems because the majority party controls the legislature and the executive. up until now under our American system citizens routinely voted for individuals who were known not to always follow in lockstep with your
party you mentioned my father as being one of them. He was the exception with, with a, with a president and at least one house of Congress controlled by the same party uh, compromising consensus appear to be elusive are we becoming a more
parliamentary system where Americans will have to choose a party in their
elective choices? No. I think it’s the exact opposite. Exact opposite. Why is that? I think you’re going to get more into coalition government we’re actually not – neither party is gonna really have enough to get a governing majority in a way which is similar to Britain in that way they’ve already gotten to that point okay and the idea of sort of a party machine dictating how everybody votes I
think is long gone and I think what you see are folks being elected on a certain
party label but they’re not necessarily gonna be you know what the party
platform is. I think it’s I think it’s evolving like I said earlier I think
the parties have kind of decoupled from where they used to be and they’re sort
of realigning and I think that it actually is not we’re not going towards
uber partisanship we’re going to more of a system where it’s gonna continue to
fragment in a way. Are you predicting the rise of a third party? Uh, no although we’ve
had those every so often in history right I mean Right there’s always been that – there’s always been that uh, uh urge you know Perot in 1992, Um The new wigs
the new Bull Moose The new Wigs, The new Wigs I mean the one that really had
the most impact was you mean you know TR, um, his, his chosen successor was Taft and then
Taft didn’t really fit TR’s mold and ultimately you know TR Bull Moose’d him
and then we got Woodrow Wilson so the third party idea has been with us and
has actually you know enacted some significant change and it like
everything else kind of goes in waves but it’s never really taken hold in
America I mean we have sort of a two-party general framework but what
those parties mean has evolved and changed over time and and that sort of
thing but we’re in a time now where the traditional party breakdown is
not – is not really producing predictable results. So, I – I kind of agree – I agree with kind
of the gist of the question but I actually come at it – my answer ends up
being the opposite of we’re moving to some sort of lockstep system I think
it’s actually kind of falling apart a little bit on the party stuff
and part of this is actually parties have lost control over the fundraising
and the money and now it it the money the power has moved away from the
parties to other issue groups and the like so the party no longer has the lock
it had on people you know when you think about politicians of old you very much
had to work your way up through the system and that kind of thing and now
you can just run for Congress and buy a bunch of TV and you know do – win and you
don’t really owe the party anything. You may be a Republican or a Democrat but
you don’t owe the party anything right? Right Look at Joe Crowley right up in New York
I mean longtime Democrat, very shrewd politician, very much comes from the era
of party politics and you know loses his primary. Uh, Eric Cantor another guy
brilliant guy from Virginia lost his primary, uh, and you know this happens from
time to time and we’re in that we’re in that stage. Um, Balance of power right between the uh executive and the and the legislative Um, there are some who believe
that the executive has broad and sweeping powers that eclipsed both
Congress and in some cases enacted laws what is the basis for that philosophy? You tell me wait, wait executive power trump’s enacted laws? Well – well the there’s a – there’s a With a law that – Lets us put this in English there’s there are each branch has it powers and I kind of mentioned this earlier, Congress has a new inner powers executive branch has more
executive power, whatever that may mean, um, and that’s something that we’ve been
trying to define now for a couple hundred years. Congress will occasionally
pass statutes it passed more and more of them over the past several decades and
they had for 150 years where the president does something they don’t like
it probably is something that the president has the power to do under the
Constitution the Congress kind of acknowledges it and they pass a
statutory framework trying to get the President to sort of do it within the
bounds Congress sets. This has been something that has gone on for years.
Easy example that has nothing to do with current events so as to not get
everybody all excited although it kind of does because it came up as War Powers
Resolution came about Vietnam and that requires the president if he uses force
to report to Congress and Congress can sort of rein that in and the like. President
has never conceded the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution when the
president submits the paper to Congress it’s never done pursuant to the War
Powers Resolution the paper says it is consistent with the War Powers
Resolution so that is a sort of this constitutional fight that you see where
the president thinks as commander-in-chief he has the power to
do something the Congress thinks because they have the power to declare war they
have something and we’ve been sort of the branches have been fighting this out
and that’s an example where the president thinks his power under the
Constitution trumps an enacted law. Well, How about that for landing that one
on my feet? you did land that you stuck it and that was great yeah But is it a zero-sum game so to the extent that Congress has power has – does the
executive have less power? No not necessarily and vice a versa No not necessa – they’re on – our history has been one of tug of war between the branches as to who makes the ultimate decisions. Um, you
know Thomas Jefferson didn’t think the president had the power to buy land then
he became president and the Louisiana Purchase came on the table and
apparently he was very pained and he decided he actually did have the power
so sometimes you know when you’re in the legislature you don’t think the
president has the power when you’re in the presidency all of a
sudden you know maybe you do have the power. So, this is why we have a system of
necessary tension between the branches I see it as a feature not a bug and it’s
not really a zero-sum game they’re shared powers, there’s powers that are clearly
one branch and not other branches and it’s it’s part of our democratic
experiment of self-government where there is this natural healthy tension
where they have to fight it out and part of it is it influences voters
I mean voters matter voters think that the legislature should reign in the
president and the political will is there it’s a lot easier for the
legislature to do that if the – if the will of the people is more on the president’s
side the presidential power is probably going to follow that but this is not
something new it’s been with us for a long long time. Well in your opinion what
reforms can be implemented to foster compromise in the future That’s a good question. How about bringing back the traditional filibuster? But if you want to filibuster you got to
stay up there and uh – Well that’s interesting right you actually have to
stand up and explain yourself now you just have to kind of file a piece of
paper and you can filibuster and go to you know go the restaurant have a nice
dinner and you’re filibustering. right this sort of defeats the idea of a deliberative body. Um, you know I think that to the extent that elected officials are
actually in the chamber and have to actually engage in the moment that might
help now very much done remote on TV from their offices staff does a lot of
the work that kind of thing I think you know it’s the – but look, we it it
has to come from within the elected officials have to take the initiative I
think to try to reach out and try to figure out other things they can solve
you know the the the the recent trade deal passed Congress. Massive bipartisan support. Copyright reform just went through is
supposed to give songwriters a little bit more piece of their royalties
because of internet streaming and like passed with bipartisan support there
have been a lot of bipartisan bills there just not in areas that get
everybody worked up although the trade bill should but still both sides came
together on that one so there are you know, for the idea that it’s polarized and nothing’s getting done the record really
doesn’t reflect that if you take a look at at least a you know a couple pieces
of legislation. What you have are a lot of bills that never go anywhere and you
know big knockdown drag-outs on things but you know every everything goes in
cycles you look under Bill Clinton you know welfare reform or a number of things
where you had Newt Gingrich running around in the house with the Republicans
and the Senate Republicans and you had Clinton and they actually ended up being
very productive legislatively at the time it didn’t feel that way it felt
very divisive very personal at times petty but when you look at it
they actually passed some very significant legislation so it can be
done it’s been done in our lifetime. Very good As long as we kind of agree on the
premise We have a lot of students here tonight. Okay, that’s good what do- They’re probably not the ones wearing the suits although maybe who knows. Um what advice do you have for them? Um, find something you’re passionate about try to get some skills
don’t be sort of a master of everything, right? and when you’re young try out
different things try to try to take some risks and it may pay off but pay your
dues whatever you want to do you can find something that you’re passionate
about people may pay you for it and that would be wonderful but what I
see at least with lawyers is there people who skip steps they don’t really –
they don’t really put the hours in when they’re young they take easier jobs they
change jobs a lot and when they get older kind of our age all of a sudden
they really don’t have clients they really don’t have much to do because
they really haven’t learned the basics of their craft and this applies to
everything from people who want to be chefs to lawyers to doctors to you know
you have to pay your dues so I would say dig in, you know, and while you’re young
learn it now and take some chances and really try to master something. Yeah, but this law thing is just your hobby I mean you have real talent right? No come on, come on tell them tell them he plays the – He plays the guitar yeah well In in 80’s and 90’s bands Well I used to
be but I’m retired you’re retired I am I’m retired
yeah too busy yeah I’ve been playing my whole life and I kind of picked up piano
when I was little my parents got me piano lessons a guy named Buddy Chapman
who was a local jazz piano player had a trio and fantastic opportunity to work
with him and then I took guitar lessons from a guy named Tom Hawk who had a
guitar studio in Atlantic City Tommy Hawk yeah Tommy, and so Tom still actually my
tech he still sets up my guitars and he’s still around and Tom was sort of
the local rock star still is in a lot of ways of South Jersey and and so I
learned from him and I learned a lot I didn’t realize how much I learned from I
learned all the modes of the scale and everything when I was like 12 and kind
of forgot it then got back into it and been playing kind of my whole life and
played in bands and been fortunate enough to occasionally play with people
who do it for a living and and all that but When you leave here go on YouTube
there’s there’s some great – there’s some great footage of him down in Dewey
Beach Right the recent – well the recent one one was actually at the MGM casino
outside of DC a band called Winger platinum recording artist won a lot of
awards I actually got in played with them uh You got up and played with them? Yeah You going to go on tour with them? No, no I’m too busy, I’m too busy yeah Law pays a little better now than that but I understand yeah so I’ve been very
fortunate that I’ve met you know people who do it for real and that’s a tough
life because it’s not the sort of thing where you have a steady paycheck you
have to work it every day and all those guys are making making a go of it and
they do a lot of things from playing live to they still put out their own
music but if not not all the people buy records like they used to they do
soundtracks video game music all kinds of things to make it going because it’s
their passion and they’ve managed to figure out a way to make a living at
their passion so it could be done but it’s not easy all right well and I didn’t have the you know I never really decided to just go
all in it would be a starving artist I uh, you know I my parents were very very
wise to say no you know what you’re probably better off with the books with
the books yeah okay well what is what is your favorite song of the 80s or 90s
what’s the best one the fate that’s a br – I mean I also I’m
contemporary I keep up at the times but right now I had the sort of the desert
island probably Tom Sawyer by Rush okay yeah and best? okay here we go here we go One guy clapped that’s good Rush head good Best guitarist? Best guitarist like ever or
most influential it’s tough to say I mean Come on Jeeze, too many. I mean for me Van
Halen’s kind of a – the big bang and the guy that sort of put it all together – smattering of applause but you know a lot of good players out there
and everybody kind of does their thing but Van Halen really kind of reset it
for people our age was the guy who really got it going and then there’s a
good 10 to 15 years of imitators of Van Halen that just drove so much of pop
music so it you know as far as been impactful he certainly is best and all
right in my book he sees the guy well I want to thank Don McGahn for coming
tonight he took the timeout [ applause ] and I would like to thank all of you for
coming my sisters and their husbands Barbara Sullivan Lyn Hughes and their
husbands Barry Sullivan and Doug Walker are here [ applause ] the Hughes Center – the Hughes
Center has been doing this ever since my father created it and it is only here
through your support and we can only put these programs together with your help
so I would strongly ask you to consider helping us continue this mission and
continue to have these programs and support our community. Don thank you so
very much for coming. Thanks Bill, thanks for the opportunity. It’s been great. [ applause ] thank you thanks That was terrific, thank you, thank you both. Thank you for being here. Have a good evening Don’t forget your popcorn

Comment here