It was 8:30 on a Friday night. Reggie Skinner, ’97, had just finished his first week at a new job and was at home, preparing to celebrate Easter weekend with his family. Then his Blackberry began to ring … and ring … and ring. It was Skinner’s new boss, telling him to immediately clear his schedule for the weekend. In two weeks, President Barack Obama would announce his nominations for two key Cabinet-level positions. But first, Skinner and other attorneys on the White House vetting team had to work around the clock to thoroughly vet the candidates.

“Don’t tell anyone,” his boss said. “I mean nobody. I know it’s Easter, but you can’t tell anyone what you’re doing this weekend.”

It was a fitting introduction to Skinner’s six-month assignment on a team of White House attorneys vetting candidates for everything from appointments to the most obscure presidential boards and commissions to Cabinet-level positions. The assignment was a temporary break from his day job as a trial attorney in the Civil Division of the United States Department of Justice.

“As a part of my day-to-day duties, I was coming into contact and interviewing some of the most accomplished, incredible people in the world,” Skinner says about the special assignment. “Business leaders, engineers, politicians, you name it. I expected the position to be wild every single day and frankly, it delivered.”

Here he talks about some of the highlights, including his first time meeting the president and his favorite candidate—Latin pop star Shakira.

You had to be vetted for your own appointment. What is the experience like?

Vetting is uncomfortable. I was asked very probing questions about my finances, taxes, personal relationships, if I had any negative experiences with the law. It was actually interesting because the attorney who vetted me had, in the course of doing her research, identified other individuals named Reginald or Reggie Skinner, some of whom had not so sterling or spotless records. I had to convince the vetting attorney that I actually was the Reginald Skinner I claimed to be.

How do you make recommendations from such a high caliber pool of candidates?

The purpose of a typical job interview is, in my mind, to determine how the candidate can help your mission. You’re a candidate, you have qualifications, you have experiences, you have credentials—how can you help us? By contrast, a candidate who’s been identified for presidential appointment is by definition qualified for the job. The point of vetting is to determine how that person could hurt our mission. The objective is to identify things in the candidate’s background that could perhaps be misconstrued or used to embarrass the Administration. Everyone I vetted, everyone from candidates for high-level executive positions down to presidential boards or commissions that you’ve never hear of, was asked deep, probing, and personal questions. But the great thing about being a vetting attorney is I didn’t have to make decisions. I would make a recommendation, but the actual decision was left to senior West Wing staff.

Who was your most memorable interview?

I was the lucky vetting attorney who was assigned to vet Shakira for a potential presidential appointment to the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. Shakira is an amazing woman, as an entertainer, as a singer, as an artist, her charitable work is just off the charts. She just wowed me during the interview process and during the entire vetting experience. Let me tell you, I had all sorts of street cred with the vetting team after that!

Did you ever meet President Obama?

Yes, I encountered the president multiple times while performing my duties in the West Wing. Also, after completing my White House assignment, I was honored to meet the president and take a photo with him in the Oval Office. The really cool thing about the experience was that I was allowed to bring my family along. On the appointed day, my family and I were escorted into the West Wing, and before I knew it, I was standing in the Oval Office and being personally introduced to the President of the United States. I was holding my three-year-old in my arms as the president shook her hand and said hello, but she seemed more interested in the bald eagle and the stars in the ceiling of the Oval Office. The president was incredibly gracious with his time. It was an experience that I’ll just never forget.

What was it like going back to the Department of Justice after six months in the White House?

It was good, in the sense of getting back to a normal routine. Also I missed litigation. Vetting was interesting, but I’m a litigator and I enjoy the competitive process of litigating against an adversary in federal court. It’s hard to duplicate the experience of being in the White House, but it was an experience that I’ll always have.