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3/11/1996
Source: The National Law Journal
 

Republican, Connected and Rising

Two of Washington, D.C.'s best-connected 30-something lawyers are the religious son of a Jewish New York labor lawyer and a single woman fond of leopard-print skirts-unusual Republicans who make an unusual team.

Slight and somewhat wan, Jay P. Lefkowitz, 33, is married with a young daughter and another child on the way. He's almost always home by dark for Friday Sabbath.

Telegenic and vibrant, Laura A. Ingraham, 31, was raised as a Northern Baptist in Glastonbury, Conn., population 25,000. She attends church irregularly, is a popular television spokesperson for her party, rides mountain bikes and says she wears the leopard skirt, short, to show Republicans can be fun.

Together, Mr. Lefkowitz and Ms. Ingraham planned the first annual "Dark Ages" weekend in Miami-the Republicans' semi-flip answer to the Democrats' Renaissance Weekend, held every New Year's Eve.

The GOP bash was a hit. Attending the parties and panel discussions (in that order, and proudly) were 300 revelers, including such GOP heavy-hitters as Tennessee's and Hollywood's Sen. Fred Thompson, activist Richard Viguerie, ex-federal appellate Judge Robert Bork, ex-con G. Gordon Liddy, the Christian Coalition's Ralph Reed, President Bush's former chief of staff John Sununu and political fund-raiser Arianna Huffington.

Dark Ages II is coming up. And so are these two young conservative lawyers-to-watch, whose political similarities overshadow their personal differences.

Both share a strong affinity for limited government and unrestricted competition, and an antipathy for affirmative action. Ms. Ingraham testified before Congress last year against race and gender preferences as a member of the advisory board of the Independent Women's Forum, a group of conservative professionals that began in 1992 to oppose much, but not all, of the "feminist agenda." The IWF avoids abortion entirely-as does Ms. Ingraham, who refused to discuss the topic.

Both members of this dynamic duo also have been conservative for as long as they've been politically aware. Both served in the White House before age 30. Both work hard in the Washington, D.C., offices of famously demanding law firms: Mr. Lefkowitz, at Chicago's Kirkland & Ellis, and Ms. Ingraham, at New York's Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Both work closely with especially high-profile law partners: Kenneth W. Starr and Robert S. Bennett, respectively. And both squeeze an unusual amount out of the 24-hour day.

"She's got incredible energy and she busts her ass," Paul T. Cappuccio, a Kirkland partner, says of Ms. Ingraham, a friend.

"He's got a rare combination of extreme high-energy, intelligence and a real attention to detail," says William Kristol, who as Vice President Quayle's chief of staff worked with Mr. Lefkowitz on civil litigation reform. Now editor and publisher of The Weekly Standard, a conservative political magazine, Mr. Kristol says, "You find the separate qualities in a fair number of people in Washington-real intellectual capabilities or a practical ability to get things done-but it's rare to find them in one person."

It's even rarer to find them in two.

The Making of Conservatives

Growing up in Glastonbury, a white middle-class city near Hartford, Ms. Ingraham took easily to her parents' conservatism. On Election Night 1980, students gathered in the high school cafeteria. President Carter's supporters sat at every table but one-where Laura Ingraham stood, cheering for the Gipper.

A voracious reader and an athlete, Ms. Ingraham says she chose Dartmouth College largely for its women's field-hockey team. Majoring in English, she began writing for Dartmouth's conservative alternative newspaper, the Dartmouth Review, in her freshman year. By 1985, her senior year, she was editor.

"They were anti-P.C. before it was cool," Ms. Ingraham says of the inflammatory paper. "They were the first college paper challenging the liberal pabulum, saying that the '60s generation is in control and they're screwing up."

In 1982, the paper made national headlines for "Dis Sho Ain't No Jive, Bro," a much-criticized satire on affirmative action written in the patois of the black inner city. In her sophomore year Ms. Ingraham wrote the first of the paper's many articles attacking as "sub-collegiate" the classes taught by black music professor William S. Cole, who finally left Dartmouth after years of what he called the paper's hounding.

Ms. Ingraham admits the paper occasionally stepped over the line-one reporter described Professor Cole as "a used Brillo pad"-but dismisses it as the exuberance of youth stoked by battles with college administrators.

"Laura is Exhibit A for the gratitude the conservative movement has to politically correct faculties," says Michael Horowitz, a senior fellow at D.C.'s Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank. Mr. Horowitz was general counsel at the Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan, and he is Mr. Lefkowitz's first cousin.

"The whole Dartmouth Review crowd had to deal with a kind of ostracism practiced by very smart faculty members who were just steeped in conventional wisdom," says Mr. Horowitz, who represented three Review reporters the school administration sought to expel. "They had to learn to think for themselves and combine it with the courage to stand on their own and defend unpopular positions against pretty powerful phalanxes-and to do it when they were 17 years old."

After college, Ms. Ingraham went to Washington with her then-boyfriend, Dinesh D'Souza, author of last year's controversial book "The End of Racism," and Ms. Ingraham's predecessor by two years as Dartmouth Review editor. Both worked at the Education Department for Undersecretary Gary Bauer. Both also went with Mr. Bauer to the White House in 1987, when he was named domestic policy adviser by President Reagan. The next year, after a stint as head speechwriter for Transportation Secretary James H. Burnley, Ms. Ingraham went to the University of Virginia School of Law, where she made law review and became notes editor. After her 1991 graduation she clerked for Judge Ralph K. Winter of the 2d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and then for Justice Clarence Thomas, in his second year on the Supreme Court.

She applied for a job at Skadden specifically, she says, to work on Mr. Bennett's much-lauded white-collar defense team, whose clients include major banks, defense contractors and such politicians as Caspar Weinberger, Dan Rostenkowski and President Clinton. (Ms. Ingraham, an associate, says she is playing no part in Mr. Bennett's defense of the president in Paula Jones' sexual harassment suit.)

Ms. Ingraham "had a good record, and...a certain vinegar," recalls Mr. Bennett. "I was impressed."

Exhibit B

Mr. Lefkowitz majored in history, graduated from Columbia University School of Law in 1987, and joined New York's Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. The next year, he was deputy director of President Bush's Victory '88 Jewish Campaign Committee. In 1991, with his cousin's help, he got a job in the Bush White House working for the director of Cabinet affairs. (Mr. Lefkowitz squares this nepotistic preference with his anti-affirmative action stance saying the first is private while the latter is a governmental policy that denigrates its supposed beneficiaries.)

His first day on the job, Mr. Lefkowitz was sent to a meeting of a task force organized by Vice President Quayle to propose civil litigation reforms. The group's chair, Solicitor General Kenneth W. Starr, asked for ideas. Having recently read Walter Olson's book "The Litigation Explosion," Mr. Lefkowitz suggested that abuse of expert evidence be investigated. Mr. Starr gave him the assignment.

"I was impressed immediately with his extremely high intelligence and sound judgment," says Mr. Starr, who later helped bring Mr. Lefkowitz to Kirkland. "He struck me from his opening comments as very sharp and wise beyond his years."

Mr. Kristol says Mr. Lefkowitz was the key liaison between the vice president's office and the rest of the White House, the Justice Department, other federal agencies and allied lobbies. Promoted to director of Cabinet affairs (White House liaison with all agency heads) at age 29, Mr. Lefkowitz "helped quite a bit in making [legal reform] a coordinated White House initiative and getting the president's backing for the vice president's efforts," Mr. Kristol says. It was the kind of presidential support, he notes, that Mr. Quayle did not always receive.

After President Bush's re-election defeat, Mr. Kristol asked Mr. Lefkowitz to work with him on a nine-month study analyzing America's condition and its prospects, culturally and economically, through the end of the decade, funded with a grant by Milwaukee's conservative Bradley Foundation.

When the project ended, "the question was, 'Was he going to go political or become a top-notch lawyer?"' says Kirkland's Mr. Cappuccio. "He didn't look forward to going from being someone with a lot of responsibility to a third-level drone in some big case."

Mr. Lefkowitz was persuaded that Kirkland is a meritocracy where he could tackle as much as he could handle. Mr. Starr says he's been "dazzlingly successful." Mr. Lefkowitz made partner last fall.

The largest share of the 2,992 hours Mr. Lefkowitz billed last year was spent representing General Motors, often with Mr. Starr, in liability suits concerning GM's pickups with sidesaddle gas tanks. On Feb. 27, another case the two handled together went to the Wisconsin Supreme Court-Mr. Starr argued on behalf of a school-choice program that permits state education vouchers to be used in parochial schools. The case came to Kirkland via one of Mr. Lefkowitz's clients, the Bradley Foundation.

Just as Ms. Ingraham is not working with Mr. Bennett on President Clinton's defense against Ms. Jones, Mr. Lefkowitz says he is not involved in independent counsel Mr. Starr's investigation into Whitewater. But the fact that Mr. Lefkowitz, an actively partisan Republican, is Mr. Starr's spokesman on Kirkland matters and that both men have ties to the Bradley Foundation, an outspoken critic of the Clintons, have caused Democrats to question Mr. Starr's fairness in the Whitewater inquiry.

Bradley, a supporter of conservative think tanks, also helps fund The American Spectator, a right-wing magazine that has published many articles savaging the Clintons. Bradley also supports school choice, and contributed to a fund to help Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson appeal an injunction placed on the voucher program. The fund helped pay for Mr. Starr to argue the case.

The school voucher issue is close to Mr. Lefkowitz's heart. Beyond his strong belief in the salutary effects of competition on education, he says he is deeply concerned for the future of American Jewry, and believes allowing vouchers to be used in parochial schools will benefit Jews in particular and education overall.

"School choice will give poorer Jewish families the same opportunities that middle- and upper-class Jewish families have to choose Jewish education," he says, deriding the widespread Jewish opposition to such voucher programs.

Mr. Lefkowitz's sentiment that assimilation represents the greatest threat to American Judaism spurred his much-criticized statement last year to The New York Times. Asked how he, as a Republican Jew, felt about the Religious Right, Mr. Lefkowitz said, "Deep down, I believe that a little anti-Semitism is a good thing for the Jews. It reminds us who we are."

Opinion Factories

Expressing opinions is something of which both Mr. Lefkowitz and Ms. Ingraham do a great deal.

Last year in The Public Interest, a neo-conservative quarterly, Mr. Lefkowitz published a 2,000-word critique of the 21st book by 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard A. Posner, "Overcoming Law." Mr. Lefkowitz's April 1994 article, "Jewish Voters & the Democrats," in the conservative Jewish monthly, Commentary, presented an exegesis of Jewish voting patterns in presidential elections since the 1960s.

And in June 1993-when the media were pronouncing the Clinton presidency dead on arrival-Mr. Lefkowitz presciently warned Republicans not to write the president off: "Both as governor of Arkansas and candidate for president, Clinton has shown himself to be resilient...While anti-Clintonism is likely to produce sizable Republican gains in the congressional elections of 1994, winning seats in an off year is a far cry from capturing the White House from a sitting president."

His advice? Republicans should offer an affirmative, alternative agenda to Mr. Clinton's. That is exactly what the party did a year later in its Contract With America.

Ms. Ingraham is perhaps more prolific. She pens a punchy op-ed piece every few weeks, is frequently on TV touting the Republican point of view and has a flair for glib sound bites. She appeared on "Nightline" the day after New Year's, "Crossfire" on Super Bowl Sunday and Charlie Rose's show.

In just the past few months of 1995, she reviewed the book "Feminism Is Not The Story of My Life" for the Wall Street Journal and co-authored a piece in the New York Times arguing that Colin Powell would be an inappropriate Republican presidential nominee because his description of the Contract With America was "more like Bob Dylan than Bob Dole." Gen. Powell had said the contract was "a little too hard, a little too harsh, a little too unkind."

Such peripatetic activity helped land Ms. Ingraham on the cover of the New York Times Magazine last year with a group of other members of the new conservative "Opinion Elite."

Says Mr. Cappuccio, "Laura is a hit TV or radio show waiting to happen. I'd be shocked if five years from now she is not the undisputed spokesman for young conservatives."

As for Mr. Lefkowitz, Mr. Cappuccio predicts he'll stay in the law, taking an increasingly strong hand in Republican politics. He'll become, says Mr. Cappuccio, "the conservative Lloyd Cutler of his generation."

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE MARCH 11, 1996 EDITION OF THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL © 1996 ALM PROPERTIES, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. FURTHER DUPLICATION WITHOUT PERMISSION IS PROHIBITED

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