The induction of George W. Bush into the Texas crony network can be traced to a precise date: June 6, 1962. On that date, the gregarious 15-year-old went to work in the mailroom of Houston’s oldest and most prestigious law firm, Baker Botts.
Four decades later, the financial/political symbiosis between the Bushes and Baker Botts is stronger than ever. Indeed, no law firm in America has profited more from its association with the two Bush Administrations than Baker Botts. Much of that influence stems from the firm’s patriarch, the silver-maned, silver-tongued former Secretary of State, James A. Baker III. And now that Baker has joined George W. Bush’s campaign–he is leading the negotiations with the Kerry campaign on the presidential debates–it’s assured that he and a battalion of Baker Botts barristers are ready to man the ramparts in the event of another Florida recount scenario.
Nearly four years have passed since Baker stridently proclaimed that “the vote in Florida has been counted and then recounted. Governor George W. Bush was the winner of the vote. He was also the winner of the recount.” It scarcely matters now that Baker’s statement wasn’t true: When Baker made that pronouncement, on November 11, 2000, the recount had not even begun in two of the four counties the Gore campaign had targeted. The important thing was that Baker stuck to the script. He also kept the entire Bush legal team–which included several Baker Botts lawyers–focused and determined to win at all costs. Shortly after Bush prevailed at the US Supreme Court in 2000, Baker told an interviewer, “I think all this talk about legitimacy is way overblown.”
James A. Baker III has never doubted that the Bushes deserve to live in the White House. Their ties go back to the 1950s, when George H.W. Bush met Baker on the tennis courts at the Houston Country Club. At about the same time, Baker Botts began handling the legal work for Bush’s company, Zapata Petroleum. It was a reasonable choice: Baker Botts is the second-oldest law firm west of the Mississippi. And since its founding, it has consistently represented the looters, polluters and plutocrats. Baker’s great-grandfather Judge James A. Baker made his reputation by representing the infamous railroad robber baron Jay Gould, the man who tried to corner the gold market in 1869. Gould’s shenanigans led to “Black Friday,” when gold prices collapsed, financial panic ensued and the reputation of President Ulysses S. Grant, who had been duped by Gould, was ruined. After aligning itself with Gould, the law firm began specializing in railroad law. When oil began dominating Texas, Baker Botts began working for Big Oil.
In 1957 Baker was prevented from working at the law firm that employed his father, grandfather and great-grandfather thanks to the firm’s new anti-nepotism rule, a policy adopted during his father’s tenure. But the nepotism policy was rescinded when the newly out of work former Secretary of State returned to Houston. In fact, the firm welcomed him–at a salary reported to be $1 million per year. In addition to his job at Baker Botts, Baker also began selling his influence to select corporations. Just thirty-three days after Bill Clinton moved into the White House, Baker, in addition to his duties at Baker Botts, took a job lobbying for Enron in postwar Kuwait and elsewhere.