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Staff Reporter of the Sun
November 26, 2007
Lee Balterman/Time Life Picture/Getty; Clem Albers/Corbis; Barney Peterson/Corbis; Art Frisch/San Francisco Chronicle/Corbis
Clockwise from top, the future first lady while at Wellesley College in 1969, and partners at the law firm Treuhaft, Walker and Burnstein, Robert Treuhaft, Doris Walker, and Malcolm Burnstein.

OAKLAND, Calif. — In a life marked largely by political caution, one entry on Senator Clinton's résumé stands out: her clerkship in 1971 at one of America's most radical law firms, Treuhaft, Walker and Burnstein.
One partner at the firm, Doris Walker, was a Communist Party member at the time. Another partner, Robert Treuhaft, had left the party in 1958, several years after being called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and labeled as one of America's most "dangerously subversive" lawyers. The Oakland-based firm was renowned for taking clients others rejected as too controversial, including Communists, draft resisters, and members of the African-American militant group known as the Black Panthers.
To this day, Mrs. Clinton's decision to work at the unabashedly left-wing firm is surprising, even shocking, to some of her former colleagues there and to those supporting her bid for the presidency. To the former first lady's enemies and political opponents, her summer at the Treuhaft firm is yet another indication that radical ideology lurks beneath the patina of moderation she has adopted in public life.
RELATED: The Clintons' Berkeley Summer of Love
Through more than a dozen interviews, a review of law firm files and correspondence at two university archives, and an examination of previously published descriptions of Mrs. Clinton's California summer, The New York Sun has sought to compile a comprehensive account of the 23-year-old Yale law student's work for the Treuhaft firm, how she got there, and how acquaintances she made that summer surfaced from time to time as her political career unfolded.
The Sun's investigation found that:
  • Republican opposition researchers working for President George H.W. Bush were aware of Mrs. Clinton's tie to the Treuhaft firm in 1992, before it was widely known, and apparently chose not to exploit it. They reasoned that she was the wife of the candidate rather than the candidate herself, a reasoning that no longer applies as Mrs. Clinton seeks the Democratic presidential nomination. Lawyers involved with the firm were surprised that Republican operatives never moved to capitalize on Mrs. Clinton's connection.
  • An oft-repeated and published anecdote about Mrs. Clinton's involvement in the firm's plea negotiations over an armed invasion of the California Legislature by Black Panthers seems to be apocryphal, though one of the attorneys directly involved has a "very distinct" memory of Mrs. Clinton's attendance at a Panthers-related meeting.
  • The firm was involved in another volatile Black Panthers case the summer Mrs. Clinton worked there: the trial of Huey Newton for the 1967 killing of an Oakland police officer. Treuhaft represented a Newton associate whose role in the trial may have helped Newton win a series of mistrials and, eventually, the dismissal of all charges related to the officer's death.
  • Partners at the firm said it was likely Mrs. Clinton also worked on politically sensitive cases involving a Berkeley student activist denied admission to the California bar over incendiary rhetoric, Stanford physician interns fighting a loyalty oath at the Veterans Administration, and men claiming conscientious objector status to avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam. Mrs. Clinton's only public recollection of her work at the Treuhaft firm is that she handled a child custody matter.
  • Mrs. Clinton's most vivid memories from that summer may be personal ones that have nothing to do with the law firm with which she clerked. A fellow Yale law student, President Clinton, shared the Berkeley apartment where she was staying. The pair soon got serious and would move in together when they returned to New Haven that fall.
Mrs. Clinton's campaign declined to make her available for an interview for this story.