Douglas Letter wasn’t spotlight hunting when Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi asked him to become the House of Representatives’ general counsel in December 2018.
Months later, however, the impeachment of President Trump vaulted Letter straight to center stage. One of the key figures in coordinating the House team’s impeachment prosecution strategy, he found himself in heated battles with the White House and the subject of lengthy Washington Post and CNN.com profiles.
Congenial and self-effacing, Letter credits his staff of nine attorneys (and others who have volunteered) for deftly juggling a tidal wave of tasks. His unorthodox tendencies toward sleep (or lack thereof) also helped the cause.
“I nap during meetings, just doze right off,” Letter says. “No, seriously, I’ve always been fine on four hours a night and I do have a few exercise routines that keep me sane.”
He has experienced many surprises over the past year, including some unexpected common ground with House Speaker Pelosi.
“She’s a major Grateful Dead fan,” Letter says. “I grew up going to Grateful Dead concerts, and it’s terrific to realize I’m working with another DeadHead. We’ve also enjoyed bonding over the San Francisco 49ers’ resurgence this year.”
During his 40 years at the Department of Justice, where he directed the Civil Division Appellate Staff, Letter represented Democratic and Republican administrations. He then spent a year teaching at Georgetown Law and working for a public interest litigation institute, never anticipating a higher-profile role.
Yet in talking to people on Pelosi’s staff and interviewing with her, “it felt like it would be really fun to work together,” he says. “I knew we’d be doing very interesting and important work.”
Letter’s impeachment to-do list was unending, from trying to get White House officials to comply with subpoenas to obtaining Trump’s financial records to securing information from Robert Mueller’s investigation into foreign meddling with the 2016 presidential election.
Sometimes, the work hit close to home.
“A big problem for me personally, frankly, has been doing a considerable amount of litigation against the Justice Department—people who are good friends of mine,” he says. “Many of them I hired and trained … it isn’t always easy to navigate.”
Still, Letter wouldn’t trade his roller-coaster ride.
“There’s an intellectual fascination working on issues that haven’t been definitively resolved,” he says. “It’s fascinating to ask, ‘What did the framers intend when they put the Impeachment Clause in the Constitution?’ I’m working a ton of hours and enjoying every minute of it.”