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Big Law, Big Conflicts: More than 75 Trump Administration Lawyers Present Revolving Door Concerns

By Alan Zibel

Under the Trump administration, the revolving door between the U.S. government and law firms that represent big, powerful corporations is spinning like never before.

Dozens of Trump administration lawyers working in agencies including the White House, Department of Justice, Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency — are now overseeing the government’s interactions with the same kinds of clients they recently represented, a Public Citizen analysis finds. A list of revolving-door lawyers is below, and the full spreadsheet with sources is available here.

Public Citizen studied the backgrounds of 127 senior Trump administration lawyers, examining their prior employers and clients. Of those officials, 76 present revolving-door concerns in Public Citizen’s judgment, meaning they previously represented companies with business before the government, or worked in the same field they now oversee.  They have moved to the Trump administration from doing legal work and lobbying for BP, Ford Motor Co., Verizon, Koch Industries and many others.

Corporate lawyers are in charge of almost every major division at the Justice Department, charged with enforcing laws they recently sought to defend against or undermine:

The problem is pervasive in the Trump administration, as evidenced by examples in other agencies:

  • At the Environmental Protection Agency, the Trump administration has hired or nominated at least 10 lawyers who have represented or worked for polluters including coal miners, oil refiners, the Koch brothers, paper companies and agricultural giants.
  • At the Interior Department, the second-ranking official is a lawyer and former lobbyist who represented a controversial copper mine and a major agricultural water district. The Trump administration has hired lawyers with close ties to the Koch Brothers, who own major oil refineries and have been funding efforts to open up public lands to energy exploration.
  • One of the Koch-tied lawyers in the Trump administration recently renewed mining leases in Minnesota for a Chilean company. That company is controlled by a Chilean billionaire who the U.S. government after the Obama administration blocked renewal of the copper-mining leases and also rents out a Washington, D.C. mansion to Ivanka Trump and her family.
  • At the Education Department, a lawyer who worked at a for-profit college that got into trouble with the government is playing a key role in developing government policy on higher education issues.

Public Citizen’s analysis excludes independent regulators such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, but those agencies have their own fair share of revolving-door issues. Others who worked in relatively junior roles at corporate law firms and lacked a long legal track record did not show enough evidence of revolving-door issues in Public Citizen’s analysis  Some Trump lawyers previously worked in government and military jobs and thus do not present a revolving door issue. Others have extreme right-wing views on such issues as abortion and civil rights, but don’t have a track record of working for corporate interests.

The analysis highlights how Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” when he got to Washington, D.C. has turned out to be a typical substance-free boast. Trump’s appointments have included dozens of lobbyists whose governmental responsibilities fall into the same specific issue areas on which they lobbied within the past two years. Public Citizen previously identified 36 such appointees.

While the names of government lawyers are rarely in the headlines, they are crucial to the functions of government. They make decision after decision that impacts Americans’ lives. They decide whether the government will give polluters, scam artists, predatory lenders and other wrongdoers a harsh penalty or an easy pass. They determine whether the federal government for will go soft on corporate wrongdoers or allow them to prosper.

Certainly, many Trump lawyers have recused themselves from specific cases that involve their former clients. But doing so does not solve the problem. Having spent years defending corporate clients and absorbing their worldview it defies commonsense that such lawyers would pivot from representing BP to cracking down on Shell or ExxonMobil.

Public Citizen’s analysis also highlights the disproportionate influence of a few high-powered corporate law firms. Jones Day has 12 alumni in the Trump administration, while Kirkland & Ellis has 11 alumni.

Employer Trump Lawyer Alumni
U.S. Senate 15
U.S. House 13
Jones Day 12
Kirkland & Ellis LLP 11
Justice Department 8
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher 4
Heritage Foundation 4
King & Spalding LLP 4
Squire Patton Boggs/Patton Boggs 4
Sullivan & Cromwell 4
Freedom Partners 3
White House (George W. Bush) 3
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP 2

For the sake of comparison, Public Citizen identified 23 key legal jobs and compared Trump legal hires to the Obama administration officials who held the same positions. In the Obama administration, nine presented revolving-door concerns, compared with 17 in the Trump administration. Close connections between the government and a handful of corporate law firms are by no means exclusive to the Trump administration. They are a longstanding problem that has often eluded attempts at reform.

Under the Obama administration, former lobbyists could not be appointed to any agency they had lobbied in the last two years. If appointed to an agency they had not lobbied, they could not oversee the same “specific issue areas” they had lobbied in the last two years.

This restriction applied only to former lobbyists, many of whom were lawyers. All Obama administration officials had to recuse themselves from official actions impacting their former employers or clients within the last two years. Waivers could be granted but were rare.  By contrast, the Trump administration has granted a slew of waivers for White House and federal agency officials, vastly exceeding the number issued in the early months of the Obama administration and authorizing conflicts that were not permitted in the Obama administration.

These officials bring to the job a deep appreciation of the views of the corporations they will now help regulate. It would be folly to expect anything else of the Trump administration, which is destined to be remembered as the most corrupt in American history.

AgencyNameTitlePrevious EmployerPrevious Employer #2Previous Employer #3
AgricultureRebeckah AdcockSenior AdvisorCropLife AmericaU.S. SenateAmerican Farm Bureau Federation
CommerceCatherine Bellah KellerDeputy general counsel for strategic initiativesLatham & WatkinsDimensional Fund Advisors
CommerceGilbert KaplanUndersecretary for international tradeKing & Spalding LLP
CommerceMike WalshDeputy general counselO'Melveny & Myers LLP
CommercePeter B. DavidsonGeneral counselVerizon
Director of National IntelligenceJason KlitenicGeneral counsel (Nominated)Holland & Knight
EducationCarlos G. MunizGeneral counsel (Nominated)McGuireWoods LLP
EducationRobert EitelSenior Counselor to the SecretaryBridgepoint Education
EnergyBernard Leonard McNameeDeputy General Counsel for Energy PolicyMcGuireWoods LLP
EnergyG. Michael BrownDeputy General Counsel for ComplianceJordan, Houser & Flournoy, LLPBen Carson presidential campaignChesapeake Energy
EnergyGeorge FibbeDeputy General Counsel for Litigation, Regulation and EnforcementSunnova EnergyBHP Billiton
EnergyMark MenezesUndersecretary of EnergyBerkshire Hathaway EnergyHunton & WilliamsU.S. House
EnergySean CunninghamExecutive Director, Office of Energy Policy and Systems AnalysisBalch & Bingham LLP,U.S. House
Environmental Protection AgencyAndrew WheelerDeputy Administrator (nominated)Faegre Baker DanielsU.S. SenateEnvironmental Protection Agency
Environmental Protection AgencyBill WehrumAssistant Administrator for EPA?s Office of Air and RadiationHunton & WilliamsEnvironmental Protection Agency
Environmental Protection AgencyDavid FotouhiDeputy general counselGibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
Environmental Protection AgencyErik BaptistSenior Deputy General CounselAmerican Petroleum InstituteFederal Energy Regulatory CommissionMcDermott Will & Emery
Environmental Protection AgencyGeorge SugiyamaSenior Advisor for the Office of PolicyTroutman SandersU.S. Senate
Environmental Protection AgencyJustin SchwabDeputy General CounselBaker & Hostetler LLP
Environmental Protection AgencyMarcella BurkeDeputy general counselAkin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
Environmental Protection AgencyMatthew Z. LeopoldGeneral counselCarlton FieldsFlorida Department of Environmental ProtectionJustice Department
Environmental Protection AgencyPatrick TraylorDeputy Assistant Administrator at EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance AssuranceHogan LovellsAmerican Chemistry Council
Environmental Protection AgencySamantha DravisAssociate Administrator, EPA's Office of PolicyRepublican Attorneys General AssociationRule of Law Defense FundFreedom Partners
Environmental Protection AgencySusan BodineAssistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assuranceU.S. SenateBarnes & Thornburg LLP
Executive office of the PresidentJeffrey GerrishDeputy U.S. trade representative, (rank of ambassador)Skadden, Arps
Health and Human ServicesBrian R StimsonDeputy general counsel for litigationAlston & Bird LLP
Health and Human ServicesEric HarganDeputy secretaryGreenberg Traurig
Health and Human ServicesKelly ClearyDeputy general counselAkin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
Health and Human ServicesRobert CharrowGeneral CounselGreenberg TraurigIntrexon Corp.
Homeland SecurityJohn Marshall MitnickGeneral counselHeritage FoundationRaytheon
Housing and Urban DevelopmentJ. Paul Compton Jr.General counselBradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP
Housing and Urban DevelopmentNeal J. RackleffAssistant secretary for community planning and developmentLocke Lord LLPCity of Houston
InteriorBrandon MiddletonDeputy solicitor for water resourcesU.S. SenateHarrison, Temblador, Hungerford & JohnsonPacific Legal Foundation
InteriorDaniel JorjaniPrincipal Deputy Solicitor/Special Assistant to the SecretaryFreedom PartnersCharles Koch Institute
InteriorDavid BernhardtDeputy secretaryBrownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck
InteriorGary LakowskiCounselor to the SolicitorFreedom PartnersFederal Election Commission
InteriorRichard GoekenDeputy solicitor for parks and wildlifeSmith Currie & Hancock, L.L.PSaltman & Stevens
JusticeBeth Ann WilliamsAssistant attorney general for the Office of Legal PolicyKirkland & Ellis LLP
JusticeBrian Allen BenczkowskiAssistant Attorney General, Criminal Division (Nominated)Kirkland & Ellis LLP
JusticeChad ReadlerPrincipal DeputyÿAssistant Attorney General for the Civil DivisionJones Day
JusticeChristopher A. WrayDirector, Federal Bureau of InvestigationKing & Spalding LLP
JusticeEric S. DreibandAssistant attorney general for the civil rights division (Nominated)Jones Day
JusticeJames BurnhamSenior Counsel, Civil DivisionWhite HouseJones Day
JusticeJeffrey Bossert ClarkAssistant Attorney General, Environment and Natural Resources (Nominated)Kirkland & Ellis LLP
JusticeJeffrey Bryan WallPrincipal Deputy Solicitor GeneralSullivan & Cromwell
JusticeJesse PanuccioAssociate attorney general (Acting)Foley & LardnerFlorida state govtCooper & Kirk PLLC
JusticeJeffrey WoodActing Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural ResourcesBalch & Bingham LLP
JusticeJohn C. DemersAssistant attorney general for the national security division Boeing
JusticeJohn GoreActing Assistant Attorney General for Civil RightsJones Day
JusticeMakan DelrahimAssistant attorney general for the antitrust divisionBrownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck
JusticeNoel J. FranciscoSolicitor generalJones Day
LaborKate O’ScannlainSolicitor of LaborKirkland & Ellis LLP
National Labor Relations BoardPeter B. RobbGeneral counselDowns Rachlin Martin
StateJohn J. SullivanDeputy secretary of StateMayer BrownGibson, Dunn & Crutcher
TransportationJeffrey A. RosenDeputy secretaryKirkland & Ellis LLP
TransportationSteven Gill BradburyGeneral CounselDechert LLP
TreasuryBrent McIntoshGeneral counselSullivan & CromwellWhite House (George W. Bush)Justice Department
TreasuryBrian Richard CallananDeputy general counselCooper & Kirk PLLCU.S. SenateKing & Spalding LLP
TreasuryHeath P. TarbertAssistant secretary for international markets and developmentAllen & Overy LLP
TreasuryMartha M. PacoldDeputy general counselBartlit Beck Herman Palenchar Scott
TreasurySigal MandelkerUnder secretary for terrorism and financial intelligenceProskauer Rose
US Trade RepresentativeStephen P VaughnGeneral counselKing & Spalding LLPSkadden, Arps
Veterans AffairsJames ByrneGeneral counselLockheed Martin
White HouseAndrew OlmemSpecial Assistant to the President for Financial PolicyVenable LLPU.S. SenateMayer Brown
White HouseAnnie DonaldsonDeputy Assistant to the President, Special Counsel to the President, and Chief of Staff for the Office of the White House CounseJones DayPatton BoggsRomney for President
White HouseD.J. GribbinSpecial Assistant to the President for Infrastructure PolicyHDR Inc.Macquarrie GroupDepartment of Transportation
White HouseDon McGahnWhite House CounselJones DayPatton BoggsFederal Election Commission
White HouseGrace KohSpecial Assistant to the President for Technology, Telecom, and Cyber-Security Policy.U.S. HouseCox Enterprises
White HouseJim CarrollDeputy Director and Acting Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.Ford Motor Co.Treasury DepartmentWhite House (George W. Bush)
White HouseJohn EisenbergDeputy Assistant to the President, National Security Council Legal Advisor, Deputy Counsel to the President for National Security AffairsKirkland & Ellis LLPJustice Department
White HouseKevin O’ScannlainSpecial Assistant to the President and Associate Counsel to the PresidentChevronDLA Piper LLPU.S. Senate
White HouseLance LeggittDeputy Assistant to the President for Domestic PolicyBaker DonelsonWhite House (George W. Bush)Health and Human Services
White HouseSchuyler SchoutenSpecial Assistant to the President and Associate Counsel to the PresidentDavis Polk & Wardwell LLPHenry Kissinger
White HouseStefan PassantinoDeputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Counsel to the PresidentDentonsMcKenna Long & Aldridge LLPNewt 2012
White House Office of Management and BudgetJoe GroganAssociate Director, Health ProgramsGileadAmgenThe Marwood Group
White House Office of Management and BudgetNicholas MatichDeputy general counselBancroft PLLCWilliams & Connolly LLP