via Washington Post
OCP Note: Jim Flug is the founder of the Semester in Washington externship clinic
James Flug, a Washington lawyer and hard-driving aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy who helped defeat two of Nixon’s Supreme Court nominees and spearheaded the first Senate investigation into the Watergate scandal, died Dec. 9 at his home in the District. He was 81.
The cause was lymphoma, said his daughter Amanda Flug Davidoff.
Mr. Flug came to Washington in 1963, clerking for a federal appeals court judge after graduating from Harvard Law School. He spent his career enmeshed in national politics, working as chief counsel to Kennedy (D-Mass.) on the Judiciary Committee; executive director of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association; head of Energy Action, a public-interest group that battled the oil industry; and Washington counsel to generic drugmakers.
“He was very much part of that cresting wave of young people who were so profoundly influenced by [John F.] Kennedy, and the notion of coming to Washington and being part of the government,” said his friend Steven V. Roberts, a veteran political journalist who once likened the energetic Mr. Flug to “a bowling ball roaring down the alley.”
Mr. Flug returned to the Senate for a curtain call in the early 2000s, advising Kennedy during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. By then he had acquired a reputation as a formidable investigator and nemesis of Senate conservatives, having helped torpedo President Richard M. Nixon’s nominations of Clement F. Haynsworth Jr. and G. Harrold Carswell more than three decades earlier.
“Jim Flug is the 8,000-pound gorilla who will be driving this thing,” Makan Delrahim, a former Judiciary Committee counsel under Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), told the Washington Times in 2005, soon after Roberts was nominated.
Mr. Flug’s investigations failed to unearth major controversy, or at least enough to block the appointments. He had more success helping the Democrats defeat Haynsworth, a Southerner whose 1969 nomination to the Supreme Court was rejected amid accusations that the federal appeals court judge was “antilabor” and a “laundered segregationist.”
Arguably more significant was Mr. Flug’s role in leading the fight against Carswell, Nixon’s second choice for the vacancy, who also faced criticism for his civil rights record. “The Senate didn’t really want to go to war a second time,” said Nixon biographer John A. Farrell. “Over time, Flug’s digging and leading participation with [lawyer] Marian Wright Edelman, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the legal community and other liberal Senate aides and senators turned the tide.”
It marked the first time since 1894, during the presidency of Grover Cleveland, that a pair of Supreme Court nominees was turned down. It also strengthened Mr. Flug’s bond with Kennedy, for whom he worked as a legislative assistant before being named chief counsel to the Judiciary subcommittee on administrative practice and procedure in 1969.
“Jimmy was full of enthusiasm, full of energy, full of ideas, and would dare to do things that nobody else would think were possible,” Melody Miller, a longtime Kennedy aide, said in a phone interview. “I don’t think I ever saw him stroll through the office. He was always rushing, always busy, needing to meet with the senator, run something by him, return some phone calls, write a speech. Jimmy functioned at a faster pace than anybody I ever saw.”
Mr. Flug worked with Kennedy on legislation including the Gun Control Act of 1968, which was passed after the assassination of the senator’s older brother, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, and helped shepherd a 1970 extension of the Voting Rights Act, which lowered the nationwide voting age to 18. (Its passage spurred a constitutional debate and led to the 26th Amendment, which was ratified the next year.)
According to Burt Wides, an aide to Sen. Philip Hart (D-Mich.) who worked with Mr. Flug on the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Flug also led an investigation into allegations that the Nixon administration had meddled in an antitrust case involving the International Telephone and Telegraph Corp., in exchange for help funding the 1972 Republican National Convention.
The controversy led to the resignation of Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst, who had taken office days before the 1972 Watergate break-in at Democratic headquarters in Washington, a separate scandal that ultimately caused Nixon to leave office.
Mr. Flug “started the Congressional investigation of Watergate, and was the driving force behind it,” said Wides, who recalled that Mr. Flug was closely aided by investigators Walter Sheridan and Carmine Bellino. Their inquiry continued after the White House pressured House members, led by Rep. Wright Patman (D-Tex.), to stop their own investigation.
In an email, Farrell wrote that Mr. Flug “was one of the first, if not the first, from Congress” to pursue Nixon operative Donald Segretti and interview Alfred Baldwin, who eavesdropped on the Democratic headquarters. He later turned over his files to the Senate Watergate Committee chaired by Sam Ervin (D-N.C.), after Democratic leaders decided the investigation might be viewed as tainted if it remained tied to Kennedy, a Nixon antagonist.
“Flug and his comrades on Kennedy’s staff assembled, in two or three months, a pretty good picture of the Watergate break-in and the dirty-tricks campaigns for the Democratic majority in the Senate,” said Farrell. He added that Mr. Flug “played a role — to a lesser degree — similar to that of The Washington Post, keeping the story alive at a time in Congress during the fall and winter of 1972-73 when Nixon hoped to bury it, and much of the mainstream press had declined to chase it.”
The second of five children, James Franklin Flug was born in Brooklyn on Jan. 17, 1939. His mother was a homemaker, and his father was a Polish-born partner at an investment management firm.
Mr. Flug graduated from Poly Prep Country Day School and studied economics at Harvard College, where he worked as news director of the student-run radio station, WHRB, and once jumped into John F. Kennedy’s limousine with a microphone, landing an interview with the president-elect.
He received a bachelor’s degree in 1960 and a law degree three years later. After clerking for David L. Bazelon, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, he joined the Justice Department, working in the tax division and rising to become an assistant to Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach.
In 1973, he became executive director of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, and advocated for legislation establishing the Legal Services Corp., a publicly backed corporation created to fund legal aid for people who cannot otherwise afford it. He later leveraged his connections on Capitol Hill as the head of Energy Action, which aimed to break up oil companies and opposed the deregulation of natural gas prices.
Funded in part by celebrities such as Paul Newman, the group operated out of a Washington office decorated with Persian Gulf travel posters and stickers reading, “The faster you drive the richer they get.”
Mr. Flug later worked as special counsel on Kennedy’s 1980 presidential campaign; joined the Washington law firm of Lobel, Novins & Lamont as a partner; and represented the Generic Pharmaceutical Industry Association, championing the Hatch-Waxman Act of 1984 to promote the development of generic drugs.
Survivors include his wife of 49 years, the former Carla Carbaugh, of Washington; three daughters, Margo Flug Jhaveri of Brooklyn, Amanda Flug Davidoff of Washington and Susanna Flug-Silva of Belmont, Mass.; two sisters; and four grandchildren.
In addition to practicing law, Mr. Flug taught at Georgetown University and American University and launched a Washington semester program for Harvard Law. He also partnered with his wife to launch the National Narrowcast Network, which offered live coverage of Congressional and federal hearings over the phone.
Founded in 1991, the company operated out of the family’s garage for a decade, offering a dial-in service known as Hearings-on-the-Line, or H-O-T-Line. The service supplemented the limited number of hearings broadcast by C-SPAN and CNN, at a price point geared toward lobbyists, lawyers, corporate executives and financial analysts: $20 for the first 10 minutes, and $15 for every additional 10 minutes on the line.
Correction: An earlier version of this obituary incorrectly described one of the aims of Energy Action. The group opposed, rather than supported, the deregulation of natural gas prices.