Bachmann’s lawyerly background is better and worse than she claims



McClatchy Newspapers

MINNEAPOLIS — In the few seconds Michele Bachmann had to introduce herself at a Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire this summer, she promptly mentioned her credential as “a former federal tax litigation attorney.”

On her campaign website, too, the Minnesota Republican highlights her first career job as a U.S. tax lawyer in St. Paul, arguing that her experience on “hundreds of civil and criminal cases” triggered her interest in tax simplification and adds to her qualifications for the White House.

But a review of judicial records from her tenure as an IRS attorney and interviews with some of Bachmann’s former peers produces a more nuanced picture – a set of credentials that is both more and less than Bachmann claims.

She won the respect of law school classmates at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., and was licensed to practice in Minnesota within seven or eight months of graduation. She went on to get an advanced law degree at the same prestigious Virginia college that Thomas Jefferson attended.

In her tenure as an IRS attorney in St. Paul, however, it appears that Bachmann seldom entered a courtroom and fully litigated only two cases in four-plus years, according to judicial records. Co-workers from the time describe her as pleasant and professional, but cannot recall one important case or criminal prosecution she handled.

At the root of Bachmann’s legal career is an even more complex picture – an ambitious young woman steeped in evangelical Christianity, deeply affected by her law school years at Oral Roberts, and fascinated by the intersection of biblical principles and the practice of law.

Bachmann did not respond to interview requests or written questions about her IRS career for this story. But she has repeatedly cast herself as a former tax litigator without mentioning that her job was to represent the IRS against taxpayers.

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