George J. Terwilliger III

Last updated on 18 August 2017

George J. Terwilliger III (born June 5, 1950) is an American lawyer and politician. He is a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of McGuireWoods LLP and is a former United States Deputy Attorney General and acting United States Attorney General.[1][2] Terwilliger, of Vermont, was nominated on February 14, 1992, by President George H.W. Bush to be Deputy Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice. He would succeed William Pelham Barr.[3] As Deputy Attorney General, Terwilliger became the second-highest-ranking official in the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and ran the day-to-day operations of the Department, serving in that position from 1991 through 1993. He was appointed to the position after serving as the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont. In addition, he currently serves on the Advisory Board of Intellaine, LLP,[4] a U.S. defense and risk engineering firm located in Arlington, Virginia.

Early and family life

Terwilliger was born June 5, 1950, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He graduated from Seton Hall University (B.A., 1973) and Antioch School of Law (J.D., 1978). Married, Terwilliger has three children, and resides in Oakton, Virginia.[3]


Early government service

After admission to the bar, from 1978 to 1981, Terwilliger served as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. He then became U.S. Attorney for Vermont (1986-1990) and later Deputy U.S. Attorney General (1991–93) in the George H. W. Bush administration. Terwilliger specialized in white-collar crime and terrorism.[5] In 1993, Terwilliger "briefly took the helm of the Justice Department as acting attorney general after the departure of former Attorney General William P. Barr."[6]


As Deputy Attorney General under Attorney General Edwin Meese in 1985-1987, Terwilliger was later criticized as the "Political Liability Suppression Officer" for the Department of Justice in the post-Iran-Contra environment. Supposedly he and Lowell Jensen (now a federal district judge) acted to suppress or manipulate Iran-Contra prosecutions in sensitive jurisdictions, particularly in Miami, to ensure that no government connection would be mentioned.

When questioned about his involvement during a February 6, 2001 appearance on CNN about Ronald Reagan's "Legal Legacy",[7] Terwilliger said:

"... one of the things that I found very bothersome about Iran-Contra was that some of the prosecutions for false statements involved false statements that were made in unrecorded interviews with investigators, not in sworn testimony under oath ....
"But whether or not there was substantive violation of law in Iran-Contra surrounding this policy dispute was never really adjudicated: Nobody was ever charged with that crime ...[8]
"But the bottom line is that whether or not there was a violation of law, substantively it was problematic. And the fact that people were hounded, pursued, over alleged false statements, I mean, do we hear an echo here to the complaints from the left and from Democrats about an independent counsel hounding somebody for...."

2000 Florida recount

During the Florida 2000 election recount, Terwilliger led Republican President-elect George W. Bush's legal team[9] and was "an advisor to the Bush-Cheney Transition and counselor to designated cabinet and other prospective appointees."[1]

In June 2001, Bush administration spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked in a White House press briefing whether Terwilliger was a leading candidate to head the Federal Bureau of Investigation.[10]

Private legal practice

Rather than return to government service, in 2003, Terwilliger co-founded the 527 committee "Americans for a Better Country" with Frank J. Donatelli, former Ronald Reagan White House political director and secretary and treasurer of the Young America's Foundation,[11] and Craig Shirley, president and CEO of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs.[12]

In April 2007 Terwilliger served as a panelist for the Brookings Institution Judicial Issues Forum entitled "Politics and the Justice Department: Finding a Path to Accountability".[13] As summer ended, Terwilliger was reported among the "Top Contenders"[14] to replace Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, "whose tenure has been marred by controversy and accusations of perjury before Congress". Gonzales resigned August 27, 2007,[15] and left office on September 17, 2007.[16][17] In October 10, 2007, news outlets reported that Gonzales hired Terwilliger "to represent him in investigations of mismanagement" of the U.S. Department of Justice. "Investigators are look[ing] into allegations that Gonzales lied to lawmakers and illegally allowed politics to influence hiring and firing at the department."[18]

In 2008, the American Bar Association mentioned Terwilliger as a leading candidate for Attorney General under a John McCain presidency.[19] It related that while in the USDOJ during the Reagan Administration, Terwilliger dealt with resolving matters such as investigating BCCI after an international banking scandal and investigating after the savings and loan scandal,[19] environmental cases, antitrust merger reviews and enforcement matters, civil rights and voting cases as well as terrorism and national security cases. Terwilliger was also in charge of all Justice Department operations, including crisis response, such as the 1992 Los Angeles riots. On policy matters, he was a principal in the highest councils of government charged with addressing the broad array of legal policy issues arising in the executive branch.[1]

Current high profile work

Terwilliger currently represents former U.S. Congressman Aaron Schock, indicted in 2016 after resigning from his legislative position. In March 2017, Terwilliger and his colleagues publicized the involvement of a former Schock staffer who acted as a confidential informant in the case after the indictment.[20][21]



  1. ^ a b c Attorney: George J. Terwilliger III,
  2. ^ Steering Committee: Terwilliger,
  3. ^ a b Nominations, Bush Library, February 14, 1992.
  4. ^ [1], Intellaine, LLP
  5. ^ Profile: George Terwilliger, CNN, undated; dead link as ofApril 4, 2017.
  6. ^ "FACTBOX: Who replaces Gonzales? Bush has options," Reuters, August 28, 2007.
  7. ^ Transcript: "Burden of Proof. Ronald Reagan's Legal Legacy," CNN, February 6, 2001.
  8. ^ Note: Oliver North's conviction was overturned.
  9. ^ Transcript: Saturday Morning News: "Florida Court Prepares for Historic Hearing," CNN, December 2, 2000.
  10. ^ Russell Mokhiber, Excerpt: "Ari & I. White House Press Briefing with Ari Fleischer", Common Dreams, June 19, 2001
  11. ^ Frank Donatelli, "Reagan's Many Contributions Live On," Human Events Online, June 6, 2005.
  12. ^ 527 Committees: Americans for a Better Country,
  13. ^ Judicial Issues Forum: "Politics and the Justice Department: Finding a Path to Accountability," Brookings Institution, April 10, 2007.
  14. ^ "5 Top Contenders for Attorney General," NewsMax, August 28, 2007.
  15. ^ Gonzales' resignation letter dated August 26, 2007, posted by TPMmuckraker, August 27, 2007.
  16. ^ Pierre Thomas, et al., "Attorney General Gonzales Resigns," ABC News, August 27, 2007.
  17. ^ "Gonzales Resigns," Think Progress, August 27, 2007.
  18. ^ Lara Jakes Jordan, "Alberto Gonzales Hires Defense Attorney," Associated Press (, October 11, 2007.
  19. ^ a b Carter, Terry (November 2008). "The Lawyers Who May Run America". ABA Journal. Retrieved 2008-10-22.
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Meeting of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, October 31, 1997.

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
William P. Barr
United States Deputy Attorney General
Succeeded by
Philip Heymann

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