After Harriet Miers asked President George W. Bush to withdraw her nomination to the Supreme Court on Oct. 27, she went back to the second floor of the West Wing and resumed her job as White House counsel that afternoon. She had sparked a conservative revolt against the Bush Administration and got withering reviews from some Republican Senators, but that was over. "There was a lot of work to do, and I sort of turned to [it]," she told TIME in her first interview with a national publication since her withdrawal.
Back at Bush's side, Miers is one of the dwindling number of longtime Texas confidants still at the White House at this time of upheaval. The loyalty is reciprocal--Bush was still hot months later about how she was treated, viewing her as a victim of snobby élitists. To White House officials, Miers is a quiet workaholic who got an inexcusably raw deal. To some outsiders, her name remains synonymous with Administration missteps--a conservative columnist called the Dubai Ports debacle a "Harriet Miers moment."
Miers, 60, declines to cast blame for her nomination's demise, preferring to "leave all that for other people to analyze." Her brothers were upset by the uglier comments about her, but she professes no bitterness. "Many aspects of that process were very enriching and very enjoyable," she says, pointing to her discussions with Senators and reconnections with childhood friends who called and wrote. "I'm grateful to all the people who were very supportive. It was a lengthy process, but it allowed me time to focus on the importance of the court," she says. "I can't imagine, for a lawyer, a more meaningful opportunity."
Miers, who hasn't had a vacation other than Christmas since well before the Supreme Court episode, hopes to take some time with her family in May--although "nothing grand." She gives unpaid speeches to bar associations and will speak at a law-school commencement next month. How about writing a book? "I can't imagine anything past the current responsibilities," she says. Her work, after all, is of national importance. Take her first major task after her withdrawal: she helped prepare the nomination four days later of Samuel Alito Jr., who wound up getting the job.