May 31, 2008

WAR CRIMES DOSSIER: IZ this BuZh's lawyer? And are they meeting this fine weekend?


Bush's new lawyer harbors secretive, criminal past

By John Byrne

The cult of secrecy surrounding President Bush’s newly retained lawyer in the Valerie Plame CIA leak case is so strong that the White House refuses even to confirm who the president’s lawyer is.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters June 3 that the lawyer’s name was Jim Sharp, but refused even to confirm whether he is James E. Sharp, a Washington attorney.

But the smokescreen around Sharp goes far deeper than that, and perhaps for good reason. The only other president to hire a private attorney for acts committed while president, Richard Nixon, eventually resigned from office.

Sharp long has cloaked himself in secrecy, even taking the unusual move of paying to have his address and telephone number removed from the major Martindale legal directory. He was an assistant district attorney before he came to Washington and has a history of taking on cases with political implications.

Sharp’s highest profile client was Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord, a major figure in the Iran-Contra scandal who helped Lt. Col. Oliver North accumulate untaxed wealth in overseas accounts.

Far lesser known, however, is a 1994 finding by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, where he engaged in “unethical and criminal activity” for pressuring a witness to commit perjury. The charge was leveled by one of Sharp’s witnesses when he represented his self-avowed “good friend” Joe Harry Pegg against a charge of conspiring to import marijuana in 1988 and 1989.

In 1994, when the case was being heard on appeal, the lawyer for one of Pegg’s co-conspirators, Reggie Baxter, contacted the prosecuting attorney, Cynthia Collazo, saying that Sharp might have had “privileged conversations” that might cause Sharp to have a conflict of interest in representing Pegg.

“In unsworn statements, Baxter told Collazo that shortly after he had been arrested in 1992 for participating in the marijuana importation conspiracy charged in the instant case, Sharp had met with him and arranged for Pegg to pay a portion of Baxter's legal fees,” the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals transcript states. “Baxter then stated that Pegg had retained attorney Dick Hibey to represent Baxter in the case. Baxter further claimed that Sharp and Hibey helped him concoct a false story to help exculpate Pegg.”

After Collazo expressed her concerns to Sharp, he decided to remain on the case regardless. Though they did not dispute his actions were criminal, the government could not to pursue Sharp because they were unable to prove the conflict adversely affected his counsel of Pegg, a standard required by the Sixth Amendment.

“The district court found and the government does not deny that Sharp labored under an actual conflict of interest created by co-conspirator Baxter's allegations that Sharp had engaged in unethical and criminal activity in connection with his representation of Pegg,” the transcript asserts.

And, as the White House refuses to confirm Sharp’s identity, some speculate that he might also have been the Jim Sharp who served as an attorney to Jeb Magruder, a player in the Watergate scandal. It’s possible, one blogger notes, since James E. Sharp, born in 1940, would have been 33 at the time.

If it is the same case, Sharp was accused of sneaky dealing there, too: A recent book by Tony Lukas — “Nightmare” — has Sharp telling a Watergate defendant that he’ll let him confess all first to get a plea deal, then subsequently scheduling an appointment for his client, Jeb Magruder, to get his deal first.

Joseph E. diGenova, a former U.S. attorney who worked with Sharp as a young prosecutor, told the Washington Post that Sharp is known for his litigation skills.

He’s “a brilliant tactician who is very persuasive” he said, and “folksy like a fox.”

No comments: