Lanny Breuer is returning to Covington & Burling.
At Covington, the controversial former chief of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division will head one of the top corporate criminal defense practices in the city.
As chief of the Criminal Division, Breuer had to face down politicians, reporters and public interest activists who wanted to know why no major financial institution or executive from a major financial institution has been criminally prosecuted since the financial crisis.
These confrontations resulted in two high profile television news documentaries — one that ran on CBS News 60 Minutes in December 2011 titled Prosecuting Wall Street — and another that ran in January 2013 on PBS’s Frontline titled The Untouchables.
The controversy over how the Justice Department prosecutes — or doesn’t prosecute — major corporations will be the subject of a May 3 conference at the National Press Club titled – Neither Admit Nor Deny: Corporate Crime in the Age of Deferred Prosecutions, Consent Decrees, Whistleblowers and Monitors.
“Covington is a firm that continues to build upon its storied history and move forward in dynamic and important ways, and I am returning at a particularly exciting time,” Breuer said yesterday in a statement released by Covington. “I look forward to my new leadership role in helping to shape the future of one of the country’s most prestigious firms.”
At Covington, Breuer will work with a corporate criminal defense team that includes:
Robert Amaee, the former Head of Anti-Corruption and Head of Proceeds of Crime at the UK Serious Fraud Office.
Bruce Baird, former Chief of the Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
Tom Barnett and Deborah Garza, both a former Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Antitrust Division.
Michael Chertoff, himself a former Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division before becoming Secretary for Homeland Security.
Steve Fagell, former Deputy Chief of Staff and Counselor in the Criminal Division.
Jim Garland, former Deputy Chief of Staff and Counselor to Attorney General Eric Holder.
Nancy Kestenbaum and Lynn Neils, both former Chiefs of the General Crimes Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
Ethan Posner and Jean Veta, both former Deputy Associate Attorneys General.
Alan Vinegrad, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
And numerous other former federal prosecutors and enforcement officials, including Stephen Anthony, David Bayless, Casey Cooper, Haywood Gilliam, Geoffrey Hobart, and Simone Ross.
Criticism of Breuer’s exit through the revolving door came quickly from Dennis Kelleher, a former partner at Skadden Arps in Washington, D.C., and currently president of the public interest group Better Markets.
Kelleher told Corporate Crime Reporter that “nothing is more corrosive to the American people’s trust in government than the revolving door where too many officials turn their so-called public service into multi-million dollar riches unimaginable to most Americans.”
“This blatant cashing-in is destroying faith in government and government officials,” Kelleher said.
“Lanny Breuer’s spinning through it is only the latest example: partner at big DC law firm representing corporate clients before the Department, then becomes a senior official at the Department making decisions whether or not to prosecute those same or similar corporate clients, then leaves to go back to private practice representing those same or similar corporate clients with legal issues before, bingo, the Department of Justice,” Kelleher said.
“Isn’t much of his new multi-million dollar pay package due to the high level connections, high profile and intimate knowledge of the Department of Justice he gained while doing his ‘public service’ at the Department?” Kelleher asked.
“Isn’t all that knowledge and experience gained ‘serving’ the public going to be put to use now for the highest paying corporations and wealthiest individuals, most often corporate executives?” Kelleher asked.
“It may not be illegal or unethical, but there’s a good argument it should be and, regardless, it looks terrible and the American people see how the DC game is rigged against them and how the rich, powerful and well-connected line their pockets and promote their interests at the expense of the country,” he said.
“While it is true that public officials are often better having some private sector experience, that too often is nothing but a cover story for spinning through the not coincidentally always-lucrative revolving door,” Kelleher said.
“Of course, the horrible appearance of conflict could be rebutted if the person in office had a demonstrable record of being tough and aggressive against his or her former and future corporate clients and wealthy patrons, but when was the last time anyone saw that?” Kelleher asked.
“And, as has been widely reported, Mr. Breuer himself headed the Department’s Criminal Division when it appears to have been unable to find Wall Street never mind any actual crime on Wall Street even though it just caused the biggest financial collapse since the Great Crash of 1929 and has given the country the worst economy since the Great Depression. Yet no prosecution of a major Wall Street bank or executive? I believe history is going to judge this Department very, very harshly.”
“And, as for the claim that the public is protected because such former officials have a cooling off period of a year or two, I believe that only applies to direct representation of clients before the Department,” he said.
“I’m not aware of any limitation on representing clients before the rest of the government, where connections, influence and inside knowledge were also gained during the ‘public service.’ And, the representation limitation before the Department doesn’t apply, I don’t believe, if the former official is just giving ‘advice’ to the client and other lawyers representing the client before the Department.”
“It’s like those who do not formally register as a lobbyist because the person just provides all the information, connections and other inside goodies indirectly rather than directly.”