August 08, 2009

The New American Ambassador to Denmark

After the American Century

Laurie S. Fulton arrived in Denmark as the new US Ambassador last week, presenting her credentials to the Queen last Monday. From casual conversations and from my reading of the Danish press, it appears that the full strength of her credentials has not been evident to all the journalists, and some misconceptions seem to have formed. Let me try to set the record straight.

Laurie S. Fulton is from a family that has been active in American politics for decades. Those who did not emigrate to America were also deeply engaged in politics, as her great-grandfather served in the Danish Folketing from 1918 until 1940. She comes from South Dakota, a largely agricultural state where a good many Scandinavian immigrants settled between c. 1880 and 1914. Among these immigrants was her grandfather, who fought on the American side in World War I. She did her undergraduate studies in Omaha, the largest city near her home, in the neighboring state of Nebraska, and graduated near the top of her class in 1971, magnum cum laude. For the next year she worked in the presidential campaign of George McGovern, then Senator from South Dakota. After McGovern lost to Nixon, she joined the staff of U.S. Senator James Abourezk, working on Capitol Hill from 1973 until 1977.

While working for Senator Abourezk she became close with another new aide, Tom Daschle, whom she married. She helped Daschle in a successful campaign for the House of Representatives in 1978, where he remained for eight years, until successfully campaigning for the Senate in 1986. He later has served as both Senate Minority Leader and Majority Leader.

However, as Daschle rose to power his marriage unravelled, and the couple divorced in 1983. His former wife decided to attend law school at Georgetown. Again Laurie S. Fulton excelled as a student and again she graduated magnum cum laude. One clear sign of her achievement was that she was selected to serve as managing editor of the American Criminal Law Review, a position achieved based on merit. She did well despite the fact that at the same time she was working on the Hill for the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Since that time she has worked for (and become a partner in) the large and influential law firm of Williams & Connolly. (This firm handled Bill Clinton's defense in his impeachment. Another partner in the firm, Howard Gutman, has been selected as Ambassador to Belgium.) She has represented clients both in court and before Congressional committees, as well as the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Election Commission. She developed a speciality in white collar crime, including cases that involved criminal antitrust, bank gratuities, fraud, false statements, theft of government property and trade-control. Ms. Fulton has also served as co-chair of the Criminal Litigation Committee of the Section of Litigation of the American Bar Association.

In addition, she has been involved in many non-profit institutions, focusing on peace, homeless children, the Girl Scouts, and others too numerous to mention here.

In short, the new Ambassador has long political experience, an excellent legal education, and extensive experience in Washington. She also has had a ringside seat to the some of the most dramatic events of the last 35 years, including all the presidential campaigns, the end of the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Reagan years, the Clinton years, 9/11, and everything else leading up to the election of Barack Obama. Indeed, she played a small part in that victory, working in particular as a fund raiser.

However, a silly rumor I have heard now from three Danes needs to be refuted at once. Her own financial contribution to the campaign was small, and I find no logic or foundation in fact to the rumor that she "bought" her position as ambassador. This seems to be a favorite lie Danes like to tell, about each new ambassador, besmirching their reputations no matter how strong their credentials.

It seems that Danes are for the most part incapable of understanding that Americans do not share their faith that only a professional class of diplomats can become Ambassadors. That is simply not how Americans look at it. Laurie S. Fulton should make a fine Ambassador, and Denmark is fortunate to have been sent someone with her impressive education and experience.