Former Tiger Heads U.S. Justice Department’s Campaign Finance Task Force

June 23, 2000


CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) – Bobby Conrad, the point guard in 1980 for what many consider Clemson’s best basketball team ever, could have done more important things than teach a week at the school’s basketball camp.

“This is really the worst week all year for me to be gone,” he said, between sessions at coach Larry Shyatt’s camp. “The things I’m involved with are really popping right now.”

Instead of making shots, Conrad, 42, now calls the shots for the U.S. Justice Department’s Campaign Finance Task Force.

He’s been to the White House to question President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore about their possible roles.

And almost every day he deals with front-page headlines and network news reports adding some twist to his complex prosecution – like when the White House announced that some of Gore’s e-mails crucial to fund-raising activity were gone forever.

“At least that’s what they say,” said Conrad, smiling.

Just Wednesday, Thai businesswoman Pauline Kanchanalak agreed to plead guilty to illegally contributing more than $690,000 to the Democrats in return for access to President Clinton and other officials.

But here Conrad is at Littlejohn Coliseum, far from cell phones and interrogatories, flashing signals to teen-age campers, showing them fundamentals like dribbling and shooting.

“It helps me recharge,” said Conrad, who has taken part in the camp with his three sons for the past four years.

Conrad’s normal routine is a grind of airports, paperwork and prosecutions. He meets with Attorney General Janet Reno each Wednesday. He flies from his Charlotte, N.C., home on Mondays and returns to his family for the weekends.

But his passion, he says, remains basketball. If Conrad is preparing for trial, but one of his sons is in a basketball tournament, “that’s where my mind wanders.”

Conrad blocks off the week to return to Clemson and reconnect with some of the best times he’s had.

When Reno remarked during one meeting that someone spoke highly of Conrad, he said he quipped, “That must have been one of my Clemson friends.”

There’s a picture outside the basketball office of a shaggy-haired Conrad as a senior flipping a behind-the-back pass. The Tigers went 23-9 that year. Their 15-0 home record included an 87-82 overtime victory over top-ranked Duke, the only time Clemson has defeated a No. 1 team.

The Tigers made their first NCAA tournament trip, advancing to the final eight. Conrad earned an NCAA postgraduate scholarship and was a Rhodes Scholar candidate.

“Clemson is my corner of the world where everybody likes me,” he said.

Shyatt said former stars like Conrad show current Clemson players their connection to history and tradition. “We want them to be part of us,” Shyatt said.

Conrad gave up serious basketball about 10 years ago after an operation on his right knee. There’s a scar on his kneecap and the thick hair in college photographs is disappearing.

But he’s the same fierce competitor in the courtroom as on the court.

“He’s someone who’s not going to back down from any challenge, just like he was here,” said Bill Foster, Conrad’s former coach at Clemson.

Putting Conrad in charge was one of Reno’s more controversial decisions after she was pressured to name a special prosecutor instead of a Justice Department employee.

“Bob is one of the most respected career prosecutors in the Department of Justice and has prosecuted a wide variety of cases with great success,” Reno said in December.

Reno pledged her full support, and “each week she asks me what I need” to go forward, Conrad said.

He said that before his April 21 interview of the president, he wondered if he would feel awed, like when he met his hero, Pete Maravich, shortly before the basketball star died in 1988.

“I got to meet him (Maravich) and shake his hand. I was awe-struck,” Conrad said.

Interviewing Clinton wasn’t nearly the same. “I felt like going to the White House, I was there to do a job, and I did it,” he said.

Clinton, the former Arkansas governor, came prepared with basketball talk about former Razorback star Corliss Williamson, Conrad said. But all the lawyer will say about the four-hour interview is that “everything people say about him as far as charisma is true. He definitely has a presence.”