School buds: 20 Harvard classmates advising Obama

School buds: 20 Harvard classmates advising Obama


More than 20 Harvard Law School classmates dot the ranks of his transition team – solidifying it as his most enduring, yet least-known, personal network. Obama is seen here in an updated photo from his Harvard Law days.

As Barack Obama puts together his administration, more than 20 Harvard Law School classmates dot the ranks of his transition team — solidifying the Crimson connection as his most enduring, yet least-known, personal network.

Eyeing the presidency as a freshman senator, Obama turned to his classmates first for their high-level contacts, and then to help raise campaign cash. Now, they’re putting their day jobs on the backburner to help their friend build a government.

“If you think about the progression of the president-elect’s national career, initially he didn’t have a national network of people who he could call on,” said Cassandra Butts, general counsel for the transition. “The Harvard group was helpful on that front — helping him make introductions on policy, political and financial fronts.”

Besides Butts, other top Harvard grads around Obama include Chris Lu, who will serve as Obama’s liaison with Cabinet departments; Tom Perrelli, who works on the Justice Department transition team; and Julius Genachowski and Michael Froman, who sit on the 12-member Transition Advisory Board.

Turning to decades-old personal relationships is nothing new for presidents. But the depth of Obama’s Harvard ties is notable, potentially outstripping the levels seen during alum John F. Kennedy’s administration, said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University. “The numbers seem very large to me,” he said.

Harvard was one of just three major touchstones for Obama at the beginning. The world of Chicago politics produced his most influential advisers, including chief campaign strategist David Axelrod and businesswoman Valerie Jarrett. Obama also relied on Washington veterans from his Senate office.

But it’s the Harvard relationships that reach two decades back, forged during a popular constitutional law class, at the financial aid counter in Pound Hall, in Butts’ kitchen during a dinner party, through long nights at the Harvard Law Review. As distance separated them, Obama was the one to try to stay in touch — penning personal letters in the days before e-mail, picking up the phone to congratulate a friend on the birth of a child.

Still, the Harvard chapter of his life wasn’t the one highlighted on the campaign trail, where Republicans attempted to cast Obama as an elitist. In the gauzy details of biography, he was the son of a single mother who gave up cushy corporate jobs to work the Chicago streets as a community organizer — not the product of Harvard and Columbia University, where he attended college.

Yet now, as Obama stitches together a government, the Harvard crew is taking a prime role. They get up early and go to bed late at night, spending the hours in between sifting through resumes, providing legal advice, and receiving briefings on the inner workings of a vast federal bureaucracy.

The network, although loose, looks like the cross-section of a tree trunk, with a small group of the oldest friends occupying the innermost ring.

Butts, the transition general counsel, bonded with Obama as they filled out the financial aid forms guaranteeing years of debt for their Harvard education. As a Washington operative, Butts would later connect Obama to key figures such as Dick Gephardt during the infancy of his national political career. On the presidential campaign, she served as a domestic policy adviser.

At Harvard, Butts was moot court partners with Perrelli, who first met Obama at the dinner party and served as his managing editor on the Harvard Law Review. Perrelli, a Washington lawyer who had never been a fundraiser, would go on to collect more than $500,000 for Obama’s presidential campaign. He is now part of the Department of Justice transition team.

“We have all been friends together, and we found a common enterprise through Barack,” Perrelli said.

Perrelli occupied seat 151 of professor Laurence Tribe’s constitutional law class in the fall 1989 semester — just a few feet away from Obama (seat 26) and two others who would prove vital to his ambitions: Julius Genachowski (93) and Michael Froman (103).

Froman, a managing director at Citigroup, would later introduce Obama to Robert Rubin, the former treasury secretary who became a key adviser. Genachowski would become a technology policy adviser. Both men now serve on the 12-member transition advisory board.

Genachowski also raised more than $500,000 in the past two years. Froman, who bundled $50,000 in contributions for John F. Kerry in 2004, brought in more than $200,000 for Obama.

Another key figure is Lu, who lost touch with Obama until he arrived in the Senate. Obama hired Lu as his legislative director, then as the executive director of the transition. Lu was announced last month as the Cabinet Secretary-designate, the liaison between the White House and the heads of executive departments.

Just beyond this innermost ring are more than a dozen classmates whose years at Harvard overlapped with Obama’s and who are also working for the transition. More are providing counsel on an informal basis.

If Bill and Hillary Clinton heightened the mystique of Yale Law School in the 1990s, Barack and Michelle Obama, who earned a Harvard law degree three years before her husband, appear poised to do the same for their alma mater in the new administration. In addition to Obama’s former classmates, dozens of people with Harvard ties can be found working on the transition.

Yale University, which consistently edges out Harvard in law school rankings, counts several alumni among those assisting Obama, as do dozens of public and private universities, including Ohio State; the University of California, Berkeley; and Georgetown. But their numbers do not match those from Harvard, according to a Politico review of transition team lists.

Others are in the wings. The Harvard Law Record, a weekly paper produced by law students, lamented the school’s popularity in an editorial last month headlined, “Obama’s gain is Harvard’s Drain. Exodus to D.C. threatens Cambridge quality.”

Singling out the potential loss of the dean, Elena Kagan, who has been mentioned for a Justice Department post, the paper wrote: “It is with a mix of enthusiasm and regret, therefore, that we anticipate the Crimson tide about to engulf the White House and Capitol Hill.”

David Dante Troutt, a professor at the Rutgers School of Law-Newark, met Obama during their first year at Harvard, where they shared the same class section and cigarette breaks. “We were both skinny and cold and full of tobacco outside the buildings during the Cambridge winters,” he said.

Troutt said he knows about a half-dozen fellow classmates who have tried to volunteer their services to Obama, but couldn’t be accommodated.

“There is almost a un-Harvard-like desire to contribute collectively to whatever it may be,” said Troutt, who is dabbling on policy issues on an informal basis. “It can be a little tough sometimes for high-achieving folks to bask in another’s great achievement. There were many people who had political ambitions out of that class. … Barack has received an outpouring of support which is uncharacteristic in its breadth and its strength.”


HLS alumni join ranks of Obama-Biden administration

Obama, Biden, Granholm

Jennifer Granholm ’87 with Vice-President Elect Joseph Biden and President-Elect Barack Obama ’91 at the president-elect’s first news conference on Nov. 7

Since his election as the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama ’91 has been tapping Harvard Law School alumni in putting together his team of top advisers.

Cassandra Butts ’91, a close friend of Obama’s, has been serving as general counsel, a job that includes vetting possible appointees for ethical conflicts. She served as Obama’s domestic policy advisor on the campaign. Prior to working on Obama’s 2008 Presidential bid, Butts was senior vice president for domestic policy at the Center for American Progress and was a senior advisor to Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-MO).

Louis Caldera ’87, who served as the 17th Secretary of the Army during the Clinton administration, will again play a leading role in Washington as Director of the White House Military Office, which is responsible for all military support for White House orders. After his stint as Army Secretary, Caldera worked in the California public university system before becoming president of the University of New Mexico. He currently teaches at the university’s law school.

Michael Froman ’91 and Julius Genachowski ’91 were named to the transition team’s 12-member advisory board. Formerly managing director at Citigroup, Froman was chief of staff to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. A veteran of Internet business operations, Genachowski has been advising Obama on technology policy issues. He was an executive of IAC/InterActiveCorp and was chief counsel to FCC chairman Reed Hundt.

Former HLS professor Christopher Edley, Jr. ’78, who taught Obama during his student days, was also named to the advisory board. Edley is currently the dean of the University of California-Berkeley Law School and taught at HLS for 23 years, co-founding the Harvard Civil Rights Project. He is a veteran of Washington, having worked on the Carter administration’s domestic policy staff and as a senior advisor for economic policy on the Dukakis campaign. In the Clinton administration, Edley was associate director for economics and government at the White House Office of Management and Budget. And, from 1999-2005, he served as a congressional appointee on the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Ron Klain ’87, former chief of staff to Al Gore and member of the HLS visiting committee, has been chosen as the vice president’s chief of staff. Klain served as an advisor to Joe Biden during his Democratic primary bid. A debate coach for Democratic presidential candidates since 1992, he helped both Biden and Obama prepare for this year’s debates.

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm ’87 is playing a key role in the new administration’s economic policy review. With the auto industry in shambles, she is viewed as an important voice as the President-elect mulls over a new economic plan. Prior to the election, Granholm was Biden’s debate prep partner.

Chris Lu ’91 has been appointed as cabinet secretary. Lu was legislative director and acting chief of staff in Obama’s Senate office, as well as a policy advisor during the presidential campaign. As cabinet secretary, he will manage the White House’s relationship with other government agencies.

Many HLS graduates and affiliates have been appointed to agency review teams for the transition. They are charged with completing a thorough review of various departments, agencies, and commissions and to craft policy, budgetary, and personnel decisions.

Preeta Bansal ’89, partner at law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York City, is a member of Obama’s Immigration Policy Working Group. She was New York’s solicitor general from 1999 to 2001. From 1993 to 1996, she was counselor to then-assistant attorney general Joel Klein ’71 in the U.S. Department of Justice and as special counsel in the White House. She serves as a commissioner and past chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

HLS Professor David Barron ’94 is advising the transition team on justice and civil rights matters. Prior to joining the HLS faculty in 1999, Barron served as an attorney-advisor in the Office of Legal Counsel in the United States Department of Justice.

Anthony Brown ’92, currently lieutenant governor of Maryland, is co-chairman of Obama’s team for veterans’ affairs. He has served in the active and reserve components of the U.S. Army since 1984 and was deployed to Iraq to serve a 10-month tour in 2004. Brown was promoted to the rank of Colonel in 2007 and currently commands the 153rd Legal Support Organization in Pennsylvania.

Clark Kent Ervin ’85, a Texan with ties to President George W. Bush, will help review the Department of Homeland Security’s transition. Currently head of the Homeland Security Program at the Aspen Institute, he previously served as the department’s first inspector general under President Bush, as well as in a similar post at the State Department.

Current HLS visiting professor Cynthia Estlund will be reviewing the National Mediation Board. Estlund is visiting from NYU, where she is a professor of labor and employment law.

Reviewing the Council on Environmental Quality will be George T. Frampton, Jr. ’69, currently a partner at the New York office of Boies, Schiller. He served as chairman of the council during the Clinton administration and was also an assistant secretary of the interior for fish, wildlife, and parks. Frampton has been a president of the Wilderness Society and has been a lawyer for former Vice President Al Gore.

Massachusetts Undersecretary for Homeland Security Juliette Kayyem ’95 was recently named to the transition team examining state and national security, defense, intelligence, and arms control matters.

John Leshy ’69 is on the Obama-Biden Administration’s energy and national resources team, helping to conduct the review for the Department of Interior’s transition. Currently a professor at the University of California’s Hastings School of Law, he previously held posts at the Department of Justice, the National Resources Defense Council, as associate solicitor for energy and resources during the Carter administration, and as the Interior Department’s general counsel during the Clinton administration.

HLS Professor Kenneth Mack ’91 been named as an advisor to the Department of Justice Agency Review Team, where he will be focusing on civil rights issues. He is also an advisor to the Science, Technology, Space and Arts Agency Review Team, where he will advise Clement Price, who head of the Team working on the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Robert Malley ’91 has been appointed as an envoy to Egypt and Syria. In addition to his HLS education, he earned a Ph. D. in political philosophy as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and clerked for Justice White. Later, Malley served in the Clinton administration on the National Security Council and as Special Assistant for Arab-Israel Affairs.

David William Ogden ’81 will be reviewing the Department of Justice. Now a partner at WilmerHale in Washington, D.C., where he is co-chair of the government and regulatory litigation group, he previously worked at the DOJ in several capacities during the Clinton administration.

Spencer Overton ’93, an election law expert at the George Washington University Law School, has been charged with reviewing the Election Assistance Commission. He has represented the Democratic National Committee in a variety of cases.

Thomas Perez ’87 will be looking after the transitions of the Justice, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, and Housing and Urban Development Departments. He currently serves as Maryland’s Secretary of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation and has held several posts in the Justice Department.

Thomas Perrelli ’91 is leading the team looking at changes to the Department of Justice. Currently the managing partner of Jenner & Block’s Washington, D.C., office, he served as deputy assistant attorney general during the Clinton administration, supervising the department’s tobacco litigation.

Harvard Kennedy School Professor Samantha Power ’99, who was a senior advisor to the Obama campaign prior to the election, is a member of the team of advisors looking at how the new administration should approach national security, defense, and state department issues.

Arti Rai ’91, a professor of patent law at Duke University, has been appointed as a member of the team reviewing science, technology, space, arts, and humanities issues.

Mara Eve Rudman ’90 will lead the review of the Office of Economic Advisors. Currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and president of the international consulting firm Quorum Strategies, she previously served as deputy national security advisor and chief of staff of the national security council during the Clinton administration.

Shirley Sagawa ’87, a fellow at the Center for American Progress and co-founder of the consulting firm Sagawa/Jospin, is on the education and labor team. She was formerly deputy chief of staff to First Lady Hillary Clinton and was named first chief operating officer of AmeriCorps.

Phyllis Segal, a Program on Negotiation faculty member, will help review the transition of the Federal Labor Relations Authority. She served as deputy attorney general of Massachusetts and was previously on the board of the Federal Labor Relations Authority. She has also worked for the National Organization for Women.

Todd D. Stern ’77, formerly a staff secretary at the White House and the Clinton administration’s point man on climate change, will review the transition of the Executive Office of the President. Now a partner at WilmerHale, Stern has also served in the Treasury Department, from 1999 to 2001, advising the Secretary on a broad range of economic and financial issues, and supervising Treasury’s anti-money laundering strategy. He also served as an advisor to Senator Patrick Leahy.