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NY TIMES: When Ken Starr tells Liz Cheney she's being a schmuck*, things really HAVE gotten interesting »

(*Not the actual word used but you get my point.)

A conservative advocacy organization in Washington, Keep America Safe, kicked up a storm last week when it released a video that questioned the loyalty of Justice Department lawyers who worked in the past on behalf of detained terrorism suspects.

Kenneth W. Starr, left, and Charles D. Stimson, fellow conservatives, have taken issue with Ms. Cheney’s stance.

But beyond the expected liberal outrage, the tactics of the group, which is run by Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, have also split the tightly knit world of conservative legal scholars. Many conservatives, including members of the Federalist Society, the quarter-century-old policy group devoted to conservative and libertarian legal ideals, have vehemently criticized Ms. Cheney’s video, and say it violates the American legal principle that even unpopular defendants deserve a lawyer.

“There’s something truly bizarre about this,” said Richard A. Epstein, a University of Chicago law professor and a revered figure among many members of the society. “Liz Cheney is a former student of mine — I don’t know what moves her on this thing,” he said.

On Sunday, the Brookings Institution issued a letter criticizing the “shameful series of attacks” on government lawyers, which it said were “unjust to the individuals in question and destructive of any attempt to build lasting mechanisms for counterterrorism adjudications.”

The letter was signed by a Who’s Who of former Republican administration officials and conservative legal figures, including Kenneth W. Starr, the former special prosecutor, and Charles D. Stimson, who resigned from the second Bush administration after suggesting that businesses might think twice before hiring law firms that had represented detainees. Other Bush administration figures who signed include Peter D. Keisler, a former acting attorney general, and Larry D. Thompson, a former deputy attorney general.

The letter cited “the American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients,” including the defense by John Adams of British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre, and noted that some detainee advocates, who worked pro bono, have made arguments that swayed the Supreme Court.