Graves, pictured on the land his family has owned since 1867,
does some ranching every day. “Sometimes I feel this whole
lawyer thing is just a temporary diversion from livestock,” he says.
experience than courtroom experience. In fact, on
his first day in office, he’d never actually practiced
criminal law before. But he did own the complete
Missouri Practice Series, so he plowed through it,
cover to cover. “That’s how I got started,” he says.
“I would have been horrified to tell anyone at the
time, but it’s true.”
He worked hard building his cases; he
continued making political contacts as well, and
ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer in 2000.
Three months later, Sen. Bond recommended
to President George W. Bush that Graves be
selected as U.S. attorney for the Western District
Graves says the next five years were
complicated. On the one hand, he handled
numerous major cases, including the
prosecution of Lisa Montgomery, one of his
highest-profile cases. Montgomery, a Kansas
woman, had recently miscarried, and she began
communicating online with an eight-months
pregnant Missouri woman. After setting up a
meeting, ostensibly to buy a dog, Montgomery
strangled the pregnant woman and cut the fetus
out of her body as she lay in a pool of blood.
“That case has a lot of meaning for me,”
Graves says. He directed the prosecution, and
though ultimately he did not try Montgomery
himself, “I had been trying death penalty cases
for years, and this was like a culmination. I had a
quiet confidence that I could make a difference in
that case.” Montgomery was sent to death row,
where she remains today.
He enjoyed being U.S. attorney. “All you had
to do was wake up in the morning, and you knew
you’d be working on something important that
day,” Graves says.
“He did his job well, and in a way that was
pretty widely acknowledged as nonpartisan and
nonpolitical,” says Robert Thompson, a lawyer
with Bryan Cave in Kansas City whom Graves
worked with in the ’90s. “I think there were people
who thought, given his political background, that
he would continue to be political. His fate shows
how straight-up he played it.”
That fate? Graves was collateral damage
in a dispute between the staffs of Sen. Bond
and another political Graves—Graves’ brother,
Missouri Congressman Sam Graves. It was
reported that Bond’s office now pressured the
Bush administration to remove him.
It was a shock to the system. Just months
before, the Justice Department had offered
Graves a White House interview for an 8th Circuit
Court position. And then Graves got “the phone
call,” which felt like “a kick in the gut,” he says.
“I felt that I did an exemplary job, and I
didn’t know at the time what was going
on,” he says with a shrug. “I was
making plans to leave within a
few months anyway. … Looking
back, it was a political spat,
Those plans to leave involved talking to
several lawyers about forming a firm down the
road. When he lost his job, Graves brought an
assistant U.S. attorney and former FBI agent
named Nathan Garrett into the fold. Graves
Garrett opened in 2006. The firm specializes in
commercial and white collar litigation, as well as
political work for conservative causes.
Graves is known to fly his own plane to gain a
quick presence when a national political issue flares
up that he wants in on—his version of barnstorming.
A few years ago, a longtime client in
Wisconsin called, distraught, after having
just been served with a subpoena and search
warrant. The next morning, Graves and a partner
flew up to Spring Green to meet with the client
to put a defense together. That discussion