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William Howard Taft IV
Taft, c. 1981
Legal Adviser of the Department of State

In office
April 16, 2001 – March 1, 2005
President George W. Bush
Preceded by David Andrews
Succeeded by John B. Bellinger III
United States Permanent Representative to NATO

In office
August 3, 1989 – June 26, 1992
Appointed by Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Alton G. Keel, Jr.
Succeeded by Reginald Bartholomew
United States Deputy Secretary of Defense

In office
February 3, 1984 – April 2, 1989
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by W. Paul Thayer
Succeeded by Donald J. Atwood Jr.
General Counsel of the Department of Defense

In office
April 2, 1981 – February 3, 1984
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Togo D. West, Jr.
Succeeded by Chapman B. Cox
Personal details
Born September 13, 1945(1945-09-13) (age 77)
Washington, D.C.
Nationality United States of America
Alma mater Yale University
Occupation Lawyer

William Howard Taft IV (born September 13, 1945) is an attorney who has served in the United States government under several Republican administrations. He is the son of William Howard Taft III and the great-grandson of U.S. President William Howard Taft.

Education, family

Taft was born in Washington, D.C. and attended St. Paul's School, graduating in 1962. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in English from Yale University in 1966 and his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1969. He and his late wife, Julia Vadala Taft, had three children—Maria Consetta Taft, Julia Harris Taft, and William Howard Taft V.[1]

Government service and legal career

After researching the FTC as one of "Nader's Raiders", Taft served briefly as attorney adviser to the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission in 1970.

From 1970 to 1973, he was the principal assistant to Caspar W. Weinberger, who was deputy director, then director, of the Office of Management and Budget in the Executive Office of the President under President Richard Nixon. Taft assisted him in the management of the budgetary process, policy review, and program oversight for the entire federal government. Taft married Julia Vadala in 1974.

Taft served from 1973 to 1976 as the executive assistant to the United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. In April 1976 Taft was appointed by President Gerald Ford to serve as general counsel of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. In that post, as the chief lawyer for the department and the principal administrator of the Office of the General Counsel, he supervised over 350 lawyers in Washington and 10 regional offices. During the Carter administration, he was an attorney with the Washington, D.C. law firm of Leva, Hawes, Symington, Martin and Oppenheimer.

In February 1981, as one of his first appointments, President Ronald Reagan appointed Taft as General Counsel of the Department of Defense. Taft was then appointed Deputy Secretary of Defense and served from January 1984 to April 1989. He served as acting Secretary of Defense from January to March 1989 after George H. W. Bush became president. Bush's initial nominee, John Tower, was not confirmed by the United States Senate after much contentious debate and testimony. The eventual appointee confirmed in March was Richard B. Cheney (later Vice President of the United States, 2001–2009). Although he was only acting Secretary of Defense, and never confirmed as the permanent Secretary, he became the third member of his family to hold a position as civilian head of a military department, following his great-great-grandfather Alphonso Taft (under President Ulysses S. Grant) and his great-grandfather William Howard Taft (under President Theodore Roosevelt).

Taft served as U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO, which has the rank of ambassador, from 1989 to 1992, during the Gulf War.

During the Clinton administration, Taft entered private practice with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson.

Service in George W. Bush administration

After the election of 2000, George W. Bush appointed Taft to serve as chief legal advisor to the United States Department of State under Secretary of State Colin Powell, with whom he was reportedly friends. This appointment was technically a significantly lower appointment than he had held in other administrations, but it permitted him to work with his wife, Julia Taft, a top State Department official in charge of refugees who also served during the Clinton administration.

In 2004, Taft's name surfaced as a dissenter concerning the policy of interrogation techniques for military detainees.[2] In a January 11, 2002, memo, Taft opposed Department of Justice lawyers to argue that the president could not "suspend" U.S. obligations to respect the Geneva Conventions and that a legal argument to do so was "legally flawed and procedurally impossible." This was also the position of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who attempted to persuade Bush to reconsider. Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, subsequently advised Bush in a memo that Taft and Powell were wrong and the Justice Department's analysis was "definitive." Gonzales claimed terrorist attacks "require a new approach in our actions toward captured terrorists," and argued that if suspected terrorists had never respected the Geneva Conventions' human rights protections, the U.S. didn't need to do so.

Leaving government service

After the re-election of President Bush, resignation of Colin Powell and appointment of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, Taft resigned to return to private practice, again at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. Currently he is a visiting professor in at Stanford Law School, having succeeded Allen Weiner as the Warren Christopher Professor of the Practice of International Law and Diplomacy in 2007.[3] In January 2009 he was named chair of the board of trustees for Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization that supports the expansion of freedom around the world.[4]

On September 12, 2006, Taft co-signed (along with 28 other retired military or defense department officials) a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services committee in which he stated his belief that the Bush Administration's attempt to redefine Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention "poses a grave threat" to U.S. service members.

Taft is said to be one of the sources who told journalists David Corn and Michael Isikoff that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the source syndicated columnist Robert Novak had when he made public the fact that Valerie Wilson worked for the CIA. In a review of Corn's and Isikoff's book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Novak wrote: "I don't know precisely how Isikoff flushed out Armitage [as Novak's original source], but Hubris clearly points to two sources: Washington lobbyist Kenneth Duberstein, Armitage's political adviser, and William Taft IV, who was the State Department legal adviser when Armitage was deputy secretary."[5]


  1. Julia Taft Obituary
  2. Lawyer for State Dept. Disputed Detainee Memo
  3. "William Taft IV to Join Stanford Law School as the Warren Christopher Professor of the Practice of International Law and Diplomacy" Stanford Law School, April 4, 2007
  4. "Freedom House Welcomes William H. Taft IV as New Chairman"; retrieved January 15, 2011
  5. Novak, Robert, "Who Said What When: The rise and fall of the Valerie Plame 'scandal'", The Weekly Standard, October 16, 2006, book review of Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, accessed October 8, 2008

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
David Andrews
Legal Adviser of the Department of State
2001 – 2005
Succeeded by
John B. Bellinger III
Political offices
Preceded by
W. Paul Thayer
United States Deputy Secretary of Defense
Succeeded by
Donald J. Atwood, Jr.
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Alton G. Keel, Jr.
U.S. Ambassador to NATO
Succeeded by
Reginald Bartholomew

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