Eid on the March

U.S. Attorney Troy Eid on BlackBerrys, Navajo Nation and that super-secure room

Published in 2008 Colorado Super Lawyers — April 2008

It’s an early Monday in late August, and Troy Eid is in the midst of his workout at the Golden Recreation Center near his home on the western outskirts of Denver: lifting weights, watching CNN’s morning cycle. The usual.

Another lifter has been stealing furtive glances at Eid, who is tall and of a complexion that might have him confused for two dozen ethnic possibilities. Eid is well known throughout Colorado, but it’s not exactly the caliber of fame that interrupts this predawn gym visit.

Of course, he had an idea what might be in store for him since he’s more familiar than most with CNN’s top headline: the resignation of the embattled attorney general Alberto Gonzales, his former boss. It was a move that had been anticipated, and there it was confirmed on CNN. And there was Eid, also on CNN, walking next to Gonzales during his visit to Denver four months earlier for Project Safe Childhood, the Department of Justice’s campaign for fighting Internet child predators.

A tap on his shoulder from his de facto workout partner.

“Excuse me. Are you Gonzales?”

Eid may be accused of a lot of things, some of which are even true. For instance, during his years as partner in the Denver office of Greenberg Traurig, his nickname was “BlackBerry Legend.” This wasn’t just because he was an early adopter of the wireless device; it was for his almost preternatural ability to crank out preposterously long e-mails at all hours. Long as in nine-page memos, single-spaced.

“I don’t know that there’s anyone faster on a BlackBerry,” Eid brags in the same self-effacing manner an AP calculus student might mention how he can recite pi to the 580th digit. This is just one accomplishment among many, but, for the record, Eid is not the former attorney general of the United States.

After the scandal of 2007, a lot of Americans know that Eid’s job, U.S. attorney for Colorado, is a politically appointed position. Eid serves, as the expression goes, “at the pleasure of the president.” There’s a total of 93 president-appointed U.S. attorneys nationwide and the departments handle everything from representing federal workers in civil suits to prosecuting human traffickers and environmental polluters.

For his part, Eid is quick to note that Colorado is a big district, and has more federal workers per capita than anyplace outside the D.C. beltway. Think the U.S. Northern Command (previously NORAD), the Supermax prison in Florence, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and the Federal Center in Lakewood, among other institutions of national consequence. His district comprises 70 attorneys spread out in offices in Denver, Grand Junction and Durango. Don’t get Eid started on the fact that his travel budget is the same as the U.S. attorney for Rhode Island.

There’s also the stuff Eid can’t detail. For example, within his downtown Denver office, there exists a separate room for viewing national security documents. Even though his main desk has photos of his family, and its computer chimes with incoming e-mail, it’s the desk in back that’s the real intrigue. It houses a separate phone, fax machine and computer. In this super-secure office, even the shades play an important role: they should be kept at an angle so interlopers can’t peek in.

He’s come a long way.

Born in Chicago, Eid grew up in Wheat Ridge in the early 1960s. His father, Edward Eid, was an Egyptian immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1957 with $100 to his name. He worked a series of menial jobs: from steel-mill work to accountant in a candle factory. “My dad was saved by having a British education,” Eid explains. “He could speak six languages. Education was always stressed growing up. My father said, ‘You can do anything you want, except what I did.’”

Eid went to Stanford University for undergrad, University of Chicago for law school. After that he worked in the private sector until serving five years as Gov. Bill Owens’ chief counsel and later as secretary for personnel and administration, heading up a department of 70,000.

Some of his achievements during the year and a half since President George W. Bush swore him in might seem strange depending on what, if any, notions one has about a U.S. attorney. For those who consider the post as a sort of political launch pad, they might find Eid’s track record confounding. “When I interviewed for the job with a famous [Department of Justice] vet named Dave Margolis, he told me, ‘This is the most political job to get and the least political once you get in.’”

The work Eid takes the most pride in—as the art adorning his office walls bears out—has been with the two Ute Indian tribes in Southwestern Colorado. For years, the relationship between tribal government and federal and local law enforcement has been ambiguous at best and disgraceful at worst. It’s a complex maze that can lead to disastrous situations. Consider, for example, that if a non-native commits a crime against a native on the reservation, tribal police have no jurisdiction to prosecute the crime. It’s all left to the U.S. attorney’s office. According to Eid, 25 percent of violent crimes prosecuted by the DOJ occur on Indian reservations.

In less than two years Eid’s office has undergone intensive training with tribal police as well as local law enforcement in communities surrounding the reservations. The goal, of course, is to deputize state, local and tribal officers so they’re able to prosecute crimes on the reservation, regardless of the race or ethnicity of the perpetrator.

Janelle Doughty, the Southern Ute’s director for justice and regulatory affairs, says that prior to Eid’s arrival she barely knew who the U.S. attorney was. She still remembers his first official visit to the reservation. “When he came, he brought about 10 or 12 of his feds. I asked, ‘Is this for intimidation, your entourage?’”

Her joking belied her shock that a U.S. attorney would come out, in force, for an official visit. She was even more surprised to learn that Eid had passed the Navajo bar, something rare among non-native attorneys. (The Navajo bar demands familiarity with Navajo history, culture and legal tradition as well as state law relevant to Navajo Nation: Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.) But what surprised her even more was Eid’s continued commitment. “For him to stay connected, that’s the unusual part. He doesn’t just meet you, ‘Hi, I’m Troy Eid,’ he really builds the relationship.”

Another unusual arena of Eid’s job also relates to race and ethnicity. “I did not grow up focused on my Middle Eastern roots,” Eid explains. However, because of his position as the first Arab-American U.S. attorney, Eid has done a fair share of outreach with Arab Americans, especially related to the war on terror.

It’s a sensitive issue. Eid comes from an Egyptian family persecuted by the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser. “Our family was a target on the list of ‘Liquidation of Feudalism,’” Eid explains with much incredulity, as though such a list could only exist in Oceania. “Given this moment in history, it’s impossible to simply shrug off the responsibility. I have found I have a real obligation. Even when I’m in a place like Supermax, people look at me through the lens of my family.”

Much of the outreach work involves visiting mosques and meeting with local Arab Americans to encourage their cooperation in counter-terrorism activity. While he acknowledges that American Muslims haven’t been radicalized to anywhere near the degree that similar communities have in Europe, Eid feels the United States needs to work harder to get actionable intelligence.

“My observation is that as a person of Middle Eastern descent, we have a long way to go to build a level of trust.”

Of the 3,000 or so cases his office prosecutes each year, Eid reads every one.

“I have a summary of who the agents are. I read every case intake, and before indictment I read it again. I know what the workflow is.” And the workflow is anything but standard. Consider a few of the cases Eid has been more than privy to in the last year: the indictment of Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio, the largest federal insider trading case in U.S. history; a multigang takedown involving extensive undercover work and the participation of 28 different agencies; and, in something straight out of Animal Planet, a sting on a peddler of boots, guitar picks and other delicacies culled from the hides of endangered sea turtles, among other species. That one involved close cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Mexican law enforcement—hardly a standard DOJ operation.

It’s easy to understand why the job is so enticing. There’s the super-secure office; there’s knowing the federal air marshals on commercial flights. All of this, perhaps, makes up for the three months of FBI background work he underwent before he was sworn in. “I’m probably the most vetted person on the planet,” Eid says. Part of this process unearthed the fact that within three blocks of his home in Golden live the mothers of no fewer than three girls he was friends with in high school.

His post is determined by who is sworn in as president in January 2009, so Eid says he’s taking the job one day at a time. Amid the constant peppering of e-mail blips, he also says something so simple it explains why all the long hours on the road and the extraordinary demands his job requires are worth it.

“You could live on the adrenaline of the investigations alone,” he says. 

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