War stories from the professional career of a Washington power lawyer.
Few attorneys can claim a role in as many high-profile cases as Ben-Veniste (co-author: Stonewall: The Real Story of the Watergate Prosecution, 1977), who began as a hard-charging prosecutor under the guidance of revered U.S. Attorney Robert Morganthau. In his mid-20s, having already prosecuted a number of Mafia cases, Ben-Veniste headed a corruption investigation that led to the office of House Speaker John McCormack. From there he went to work for the Watergate special prosecutor’s office. After Nixon resigned, Ben-Veniste entered private practice, specializing in criminal law and notably defending an attorney involved in the FBI’s infamous Abscam sting operation which, despite its overly aggressive, questionable tactics, ended up convicting five congressmen, a senator and members of the Philadelphia city council—and Ben-Veniste’s client. His next star turn came as chief counsel to the Democrats for the Senate Whitewater Committee examining the Arkansas land transactions of the Clintons and their business associates. Over a third of this memoir covers his service as a member of the 9/11 Commission, where his most memorable contribution centered on the cross-examination of Condoleezza Rice. Throughout, Ben-Veniste portrays himself as a challenger of authority, a wave-maker determined to ask tough questions and to expose venality and hypocrisy. Readers put off by his near-insufferable self-regard and disingenuous disclaimers of partisanship will, nevertheless, find it hard to resist this gossipy, insider’s account of high-stakes trials and hearings. Whether he’s recounting his repeated attempts to nudge an uncooperative bureaucracy, describing intra-office rivalries, remembering a shady confidential informant from the Abscam case or dishing tidbits about scores of political luminaries, Ben-Veniste fascinates with his tales of legal maneuvering and political bickering among the powerful and famous.
A colorful reminiscence from one of the handful of attorneys, who, when he phones the White House, may be assured of a call-back.