Michael Scudder, Jr., MEF Board Member and former General Counsel of the National Security Council under George W. Bush, captivated a capacity crowd at his Skadden Arps breakfast presentation on Thursday, March 30. Scudder pulled back the curtain to reveal happenings in the Oval Office during a tenuous time in American history while serving on President Bush’s staff from 2007-2009.
Scudder took the position as Bush’s public approval ratings were at an all-time low, and was immediately thrust into high profile cases, including the firing of nine U.S. attorneys and reports of national security abuses by the FBI. Despite long hours, Scudder spoke of his time in the Justice Department as a labor of love: “The Justice Department is full of people who go to work every day trying to do the right thing.”
During Scudder’s White House tenure, surveillance and national security were extremely controversial topics. He relayed personal accounts of intense interactions with the President and his staff. In one instance, Bush and his staff wanted to move forward with a national security initiative that all agreed would be beneficial.
Scudder was tasked with determining the legality of the initiative, and after hours of consideration with others, determined that there was no legal way to move forward. After Scudder reported his findings, he was asked to start from scratch and to try again.
Scudder did just that, only to come to the same conclusion. Describing his interaction with the President as “almost nose-to-nose,” Scudder reiterated his findings, to which the President replied, “Do you have any idea how much this upsets me?” Scudder meekly replied, “Yes sir, I do,” to which the President responded, “Ok then, we won’t do it.”
Differing from popular public perception, Scudder presented Bush as a man who followed and respected the law in his decision-making. While acknowledging that Bush was not perfect, Scudder also empathized with the President as a man who had to quickly make major decisions to protect America from an enemy whose likes it had never faced before.
Scudder also told of more personal moments with Bush, praising his ability to listen, the consideration he placed on every decision, and how he could look above the conflict to consider the direction America was heading as a country. Scudder described Bush’s primary post-9/11 objectives as promoting freedom and expanding democracy in the face of terror.
After Scudder’s riveting account, Michael Gray, from the Discover Financial Services legal department, spoke about Discover’s partnership with the Midtown Summer Law Apprenticeship. Discover picked up a Supreme Court case review that Scudder started and now leads a one-day mock trial with the law apprentices.
Speaking of this partnership, Gray mentioned the reciprocal benefit of volunteering at Midtown: “The biggest impact that occurs, is the impact in your own heart. In the end, the students teach us the greatest lessons about virtue, life, and character. Midtown has a way to bring the best out of people, both students and volunteers alike.”