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Hill Climbers: Cooper Staffer Rides Unique Revolving Door

Aaron Moburg-Jones’ career seems to be on repeat. Five years ago, he moved from the Defense Intelligence Agency to the office of Rep. Jim Cooper. Two weeks ago, Moburg-Jones made the same agency-to-Capitol Hill jump.

In 2005, Moburg-Jones joined the Tennessee Democrat’s staff as a military legislative assistant after a stint working as a DIA intelligence analyst. After nearly three years with the Volunteer State lawmaker, Moburg-Jones returned to the DIA in 2007, this time in the legislative affairs division.

But now Moburg-Jones is rejoining Cooper, serving as senior policy adviser.

“I think the biggest difference between this time and the last time is the president,” Moburg-Jones said. “I was here in 2006 when the House switched. It was a huge difference going from the minority to the majority and now it’s even as big of a difference being in the majority with a Democratic president. It just changes how things get done.”

And as the House Armed Services Committee marks up the National Defense Authorization Act today, Moburg-Jones said he has come to appreciate just how those dynamics play out. Cooper is a committee member.

Moburg-Jones hails from the outskirts of Seattle. He is a 2000 graduate of Gonzaga University and earned degrees in religious studies and political science.

“I had grand ideas about the role of religion in conflict,” Moburg-Jones said. “I figured I’d have the problems worked out by the end of the decade.”

But by the time college ended, he settled for a different path: A move to the East Coast for graduate school.

Moburg-Jones, simultaneously working full time and going to school part time, took three years to finish a master’s in national securities studies from Georgetown University, which he earned in 2003.

But work dovetailed with academics. From 2000 to 2001, Moburg-Jones worked at the Center for Strategic and International Studies as retired Gen. Wesley Clark’s research assistant.

“He had just gotten out of the Army and was writing his book. I was tracking down his old documents and files and generally helping him with his timeline. He remembered everything he was writing, but I needed to make sure that he remembered the order that it happened in.”

After a year with Clark, Moburg-Jones joined the Brookings Institution for two years as a defense analyst.

After graduate school, his first job came with the DIA as an intelligence officer. In 2005, that meant four months in Iraq supporting a special operations unit.

“The unit didn’t have somebody with the intelligence analysts to read all of these intelligence reports,” Moburg-Jones said. “I was the guy who read everything and then gave it to the operators who would then go out and do stuff.”

After returning from an exhausting summer spent in the Middle East,
Moburg-Jones was in need of a break. He had long wanted to try out Capitol Hill and started looking around.

“I talked to an old boss of mine from the Brookings Institution who said, ‘There’s a Congressman that I talk to sometimes about defense policy and is on the Armed Services Committee. They’re looking for a new MLA.'” Moburg-Jones said. “I said, ‘All right, I’ll send a résumé.’ I didn’t really expect anything, but in 15 minutes I heard back, ‘Why don’t you come to chat?’ They brought me right in the door, around to the Congressman’s office and sat me down in front of the Congressman.”

When Moburg-Jones returned to the DIA with the agency’s legislative affairs shop, his heart remained on Capitol Hill. “I knew that I wanted to keep working with Congress, so I wasn’t going to take a job anywhere if it meant that I wasn’t going to be involved with the Hill somehow,” he said. “I saw it as an opportunity to apply what I had learned.”

Even though much of Capitol Hill has changed since Moburg-Jones first left, including a different Congress and White House, Cooper remains the constant.

“I think he sees the people he hires as experts who he can consult and task,” Moburg-Jones said. “He hires people who might be a little bit wonky. … It’s like a grad school setting with the professor. He wants you to come in with ideas. If he has an idea, he wants to be able to sit down and not just tell you but to have a conversation about it. You need to understand where he’s coming from and be able to say, ‘I think this part is right, this part is wrong. What if we do this, what if we do that?'”

Trading books and policy ideas with the boss certainly appeals to Moburg-Jones, but working on the Hill also brought him someone more meaningful: During his first stint in Cooper’s office, Moburg-Jones met his wife, who then worked for Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), on a staff trip to China.

The couple’s 2009 marriage bridged the partisan divide: “It has to be [bipartisan],” Moburg-Jones said, laughing. “We don’t always vote the same way.”

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