Jamie Gorelick is an attorney and longtime Washington, D.C. Democratic political operative. She is currently a partner at the DC-based WilmerHale law firm. Her career has been marked by controversy. As Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton Administration, she drafted a memo that greatly restricted information sharing between federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies regarding terrorism and counter-terror efforts. This has been cited as a major component of the intelligence failure that led to 9-11. Gorelick later served on the 9-11 Commission, denying that the memo created a conflict of interest.
Gorelick also served as vice-chairman of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), during a period when the government-sponsored mortgage entity had over $9 billion in accounting irregularities. During Gorelick’s tenure, she made over $20 million.
In 2017, Gorelick took on two members of the family of President Donald Trump, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, as clients in government ethics inquiries.
After obtaining her law degree in 1975, Gorelick began her professional career in private practice with a small Boston law firm, Miller Cassidy Larocca & Lewin. She worked with Miller Cassidy from 1975 to 1993, except for a brief period in 1979 – 1980, where she served as assistant to President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Energy, Charles Duncan. She became a Miller Cassidy partner in 1981. Following Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 Gorelick was asked to join the Department of Defense as General Counsel. She served in that position until 1994 when she transferred to the Department of Justice.
Clinton Justice Department
In 1994 Gorelick moved to the Department of Justice as Deputy Attorney General. She served in that position for three years, taking actions that remain controversial to this day.
1995 “Wall” Memo
In 1995, Gorelick penned the now-infamous “Wall” memo, that tightened restrictions on information sharing between U.S. intelligence agencies and U.S. law enforcement. The 1978 Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act put restrictions on information sharing between intelligence – largely focused on foreign actors – and federal law enforcement, which focuses on U.S. citizens. But the Gorelick memo tightened those restrictions, “beyond that required by law.” The relevant portion states:
[W]e believe that it is prudent to establish a set of instructions that will clearly separate the counterintelligence investigation from the more limited, but continued, criminal investigations. These procedures, which go beyond what is legally required, will prevent any risk of creating an unwarranted appearance that FISA is being used to avoid procedural safeguards which would apply in a criminal investigation.
At the time, there were ongoing investigations over the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Signed in March 1995, Gorelick’s memo was ostensibly created to handle issues arising from those investigations, but in July was formalized as overall Justice Department policy under Attorney General Janet Reno’s signature. In the markup to this policy, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Mary Jo White, at the time prosecuting the WTC bombing trial, expressed her concerns:
[I]t is hard to be totally comfortable with instructions to the FBI prohibiting contact with the United States Attorney’s Offices when such prohibitions are not legally required… Our experience has been that… the most effective way to combat terrorism is with as few labels and walls as possible so that wherever permissible, the right and left hands are communicating.
Following the 9-11 attack, numerous law enforcement and military personnel came forward to claim that this memo impeded information sharing regarding identification of the 9-11 hijackers, and that in its absence, the hijackers might have been captured before the attack occurred. The memo also could have impeded ongoing investigations into the Clinton campaign’s alleged acceptance of cash from Chinese interests in the run up to the 1996 election.
Deportation of Osama Bin Laden Brother-in-Law
In December of 1994, U.S. authorities arrested Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Osama bin Laden’s friend and brother-in-law. He was one of 172 unindicted co-conspirators named in the trial against Omar Abdel-Rahman (known as the Blind Sheikh), alleged mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and other planned attacks. According to journalist and author Peter Lance, “With his direct connections to bin Laden, the blind Sheikh, and [1993 WTC bomber] Ramzi Yousef, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa was the biggest al Qaeda fish the Feds had caught since Abdel Rahman himself in July 1993… If this arrest had been properly followed up by the Bureau and the Justice Department, it could have led to the seizure of both Ramzi Yousef and his uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and stopped the 9/11 plot dead in its tracks.”
Jordan had sentenced Khalifa to death in absentia for his alleged role in Amman bombings and wanted him extradited. Anxious to please the Jordanians, Secretary of State Warren Christopher called for Khalifa’s immediate extradition. As Acting Attorney General, Jamie Gorelick agreed, and wrote a letter to the immigration judge specifying Khalifa’s extradition to Jordan.
For his part, Khalifa fought extradition, and refused to cooperate with law enforcement. Authorities were anxious to interview him further. An FBI search of his personal electronics had already discovered links to Yousef and other terrorists. Khalifa then changed his mind and requested extradition. He also successfully sued to retrieve his personal effects, including a handheld PC and computer files. Jordan, meanwhile, had dropped its charges after a key witness recanted his testimony. Khalifa returned to the Middle East a free man.
Former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro believes that Khalifa went on to create the terrorist group responsible for the 2000 attack on the U.S. Cole. “He should never have been allowed to leave U.S. custody,” Cannistraro said.
Peter Lance alleges that Gorelick’s Wall memo had the additional effect of limiting inquiry into her actions. It served as the legal basis for a kind of disconnection of “the dots” that might have exposed her own negligence in helping to spring bin Laden’s brother-in-law from U.S. custody, where his belongings contained a potential treasure trove of al Qaeda-related intelligence.
Gorelick served as vice-chairman of Fannie Mae between 1997 and 2003, despite having no experience in finance. An inquiry by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight found that between 1998 and 2003, Fannie Mae engaged in practices that reduced market value by “tens of billions of dollars,” while at the same time falsifying financial documents to inflate earnings.
This included falsifying signatures, according to OFHEO Director Armando Falcon Jr. For example, in 1998, managers moved $200 million in expenses to later years, which resulted in an overstatement of earnings that produced $27.1 million in 1998 bonuses. According to the OFHEO, “senior management reaped ongoing and extensive financial rewards through accounting manipulation.”
Top managers hid their true compensation by tying bonuses to earnings-per-share performance goals – which they set, measured, and reported themselves. Thus, while Gorelick’s base salary averaged a little over $600,000 per year between 1998 and 2002, a total of $3.1 million, her combined bonuses for those five years totaled $14.9 million. Altogether, her salary, stock options and bonuses totaled $26.5 million. In her opening remarks at a 1998 Sun Valley retreat for top Fannie Mae officials, Gorelick joked that there was no money available for new business because COO Larry Small worried he wouldn’t have enough for his retirement fund. 1998 bonuses and Performance Share Plan stock grants to Gorelick and three other top managers totaled $6.5 million.
Over the six year period in question top executives Jamie Gorelick, Franklin Raines, Daniel Mudd, Timothy Howard, and Robert Levin received compensation totaling $199.5 million. Fannie Mae was fined an unprecedented $400 million. OFHEO Acting director James B. Lockhart stated, “Senior management manipulated accounting; reaped maximum, undeserved bonuses; and prevented the rest of the world from knowing.” No criminal charges, however, were filed.
In 2006, Fannie Mae CEO Frank Raines, CFO Timothy Howard, and Controller Leanne Spencer were slapped with a $3 million fine – paid for through Fannie Mae’s executive insurance. Gorelick was not fined.
In July 2002, Congress created the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (popularly known as the “9/11 Commission”). Jamie Gorelick was appointed one of ten commissioners. The Commission reviewed the circumstances surrounding the attack, issued its report on July 22, 2004, and closed its doors one month later.
Controversy over Wall Memo
Gorelick’s role on the Commission was sharply criticized once it became commonly known that she had authored the “Wall” memo. Then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft testified that,
The single greatest structural cause for September 11 was the wall that segregated criminal investigators and intelligence agents. Government erected this wall. Government buttressed this wall. And before September 11, government was blinded by this wall […]
The 1995 Guidelines and the procedures developed around them imposed draconian barriers to communications between the law enforcement and intelligence communities. The wall “effectively excluded” prosecutors from intelligence investigations. The wall left intelligence agents afraid to talk with criminal prosecutors or agents. In 1995, the Justice Department designed a system destined to fail […]
Although you understand the debilitating impact of the wall, I cannot imagine that the Commission knew about this memorandum, so I have declassified it for you and the public to review. Full disclosure compels me to inform you that its author is a member of this Commission.
In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Gorelick defended herself, claiming that the separation between domestic law enforcement and intelligence had existed for decades under the FISA law, that it had been made stricter under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and that Ashcroft’s Justice Department reaffirmed her guidelines in August 2001. Furthermore she claimed the guidelines did not prevent law enforcement and intelligence from sharing information. Finally, she claimed that her memo facilitated “freer coordination between intelligence and criminal investigators” than subsequent guidance.
The Department of Justice Office of Inspector General, the General Accounting Office (GAO), and the Attorney General investigated controversies surrounding the 1995 memo and other aspects of FBI’s activities in the run up to 9-11. Findings were discussed in a 2004 OIG report, declassified in 2006:
Although the 1995 Procedures allowed for consultation between the FBI and the Criminal Division about intelligence investigations, and in some instances required contact by the FBI with the Criminal Division, the FBI dramatically reduced its consultations with the Criminal Division after the 1995 Procedures were issued…
[T]he 1995 Procedures were largely misunderstood and often misapplied, resulting in undue reluctance by intelligence agents to provide information to criminal investigators and prosecutors. The report stated that “the tumult that accompanied [the] creation [of the 1995 Procedures] drastically altered the relationship between [the FBI] and prosecutors…
The report stated that the 1995 Procedures were vaguely written and provided ineffective guidance for the FBI.
Gorelick was able to avoid close inspection of her actions by convincing the commission to limit its investigations to events post 1998. Thus Gorelick’s role in creating the “wall” memo was not mentioned in the final 9-11 commission report, nor was the Khalifa deportation, in which she played a major part.
Jared Kushner/Ivanka Trump Advisor
Since October 2016, Gorelick has been advising Trump senior advisor Jared Kushner, and Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, on ethics issues. She currently co-chairs the American Bar Association’s Commission on Ethics 20/20. According to her WilmerHale bio she is also “the author of a leading text on the maintenance and destruction of evidence.”
Gorelick was recommended to Kushner by former Clinton administration Assistant Attorney General Joel Klein, a Democrat who now works at the health insurance company formed by Kushner’s brother, Josh. Klein told Gorelick that “Jared was a good person, and that he thought he would be a good influence on the administration.”
Gorelick insists there is no conflict of interest, despite also representing clients opposed to the Trump executive order on immigration, and her work for the Center for American Progress, the prominent liberal think tank founded by high-level Democratic operative John Podesta. While somewhat critical of her role, Norm Eisen, board chair of the liberal Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, thinks Gorelick’s influence on Kushner and Trump is on balance beneficial in that she can “push them as far as they will go in the direction of what is right.”
After several WilmerHale attorneys joined the team of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, Gorelick recused herself from representing the Kushners in matters relating to alleged Russian Government interference in the 2016 Presidential election. Gorelick also reportedly assisted Jared Kushner in preparing his initial background investigation materials, which later required amendment to make additional disclosures.
Jamie Gorelick was born in New York City and grew up in Levittown, New York. She is married to Richard Waldhorn, a physician and currently Distinguished Scholar at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for BioSecurity. Formerly he served as Chair of the Pulmonary Division, then Chief of Medicine at Georgetown Hospital, and chaired the Department of Medicine at Georgetown Medical School. They have two adopted children, Dan and Dana, both of whom are now in their 20s.
Gorelick and her husband live in Chevy Chase, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. She is close friends with federal judge Merrick Garland, whom President Obama unsuccessfully appointed to the Supreme Court, and Clinton administration Solicitor General Seth Waxman, also a partner at WilmerHale. Both were college friends and served with Gorelick at the Justice Department. When he joined the DOJ, Gorelick asked Garland to be her principal deputy.