Facing multiple investigations, including one from the U.S. attorney general, companies involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill have secured legal teams with deep Department of Justice and White House ties.
Oil giant BP PLC recruited WilmerHale, an international firm with 1,000 attorneys. Partner Jamie Gorelick in Washington, D.C., will lead the effort. Gorelick during the Clinton administration worked as deputy attorney general of the United States, the second-highest job at Justice.
Transocean Ltd., which owned and leased to BP the Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded and sank, recruited Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Halliburton Co. has hired Patton Boggs.
The companies face inquiries from at least seven congressional committees. In stating yesterday that he is launching both civil and criminal probes, Attorney General Eric Holder said, "We will prosecute to the full extent any violations of the law." There are multiple private lawsuits pending, as well.
"My guess is, they're saying, 'We know we're in for it. We'd better lay in some people who can guide us through the process and minimize the damage,'" Kenneth Green, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, said of the companies involved in the oil disaster.
Some members of Congress, particularly Democrats, "want someone to go down for this," Green said of the massive spill. As well, he said, future congressional hearings are likely to feature difficult questions, and "there's criminal prosecution hanging on every word [company executives] utter at that sort of hearing."
Areas the government could be probing include whether the companies violated any regulations, whether they subverted the regulatory process by seeking favors with Minerals Management Service or other Interior employees, or whether BP acted criminally by keeping away cameras that could have revealed earlier the extent of the spill, Green said.
"They're going to be looking for evidence of criminal malfeasance," Green said.
Because of Gorelick's work at the Department of Justice, Green said, she can guide BP on "the ins and outs of the process. You want an inside player for that."
Gorelick while at Justice "supervised the litigation and law enforcement divisions of the department, including the U.S. attorneys offices," according to a biography on her firm's website. Before that, she worked at the Department of Defense as general counsel.
"We have been retained to help the company respond to the numerous congressional inquiries that are underway," Gorelick said in an e-mail. "We have not been retained to advocate for any position."
Gorelick also likely has experience working with lawmakers, both as a lobbyist and in her role at Justice.
"Dealing with Congress is an integral part of any deputy [attorney general]'s daily work," said George Terwilliger, a partner at White & Case LLP and a former deputy attorney general.
"Deputy AGs often are "the key leaders" of government projects "that require melding together diverse governmental interests and agencies," Terwilliger added. "Such projects often involve both enforcement and non-enforcement interests and often carry competing political interests, as well."
Gorelick worked as a lobbyist for BP in 2007 while with WilmerHale, according to House disclosure reports. At the time, she was helping BP respond to an inquiry from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Gorelick's also lobbied for Google Inc., student loan provider Sallie Mae, and investment banking group Lazard Frères & Co., now called Lazard.
Gorelick is chairwoman of WilmerHale's Defense, National Security and Government Contracts Practice Group and the Public Policy and Strategy Practice Group. The firm is also known as Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP.
WilmerHale has had two partners who worked as chief White House counsel. The late Lloyd Cutler held that job for Presidents Carter and Clinton. Former partner C. Boyden Gray served as counsel to President George H.W. Bush.
BP already is a lobbying juggernaut. The company last year paid out $3.5 million for influence efforts on a range of issues. It also ranks number 106 on the Center for Responsive Politics' list of "heavy hitters" for campaign contributions.
BP did not respond to requests for comment.
Halliburton, Transocean hire help
At Patton Boggs, partner Jeffrey Turner will head the work for Halliburton. Turner has represented other companies under investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, according to the Patton Boggs website.
Turner also represents the Ad Hoc Deep Water Exploration and Production Coalition, which opposes legislation "that would negate contracts entered into by coalition members to develop leases in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico," his Patton Boggs biography said.
"The firm is representing Halliburton in the capacity of lawyers as Halliburton responds to multiple ongoing Congressional investigations," Patton Boggs said in an e-mailed statement. "The firm is not acting as a lobbyist in any of these investigations."
Partner John Beisner takes the lead for Transocean at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. He leads the Litigation, Complex Mass Torts and Insurance Litigation section.
Beisner, according to his biography on the firm's website, "has advised on numerous high-visibility corporate crisis situations, including congressional hearings, federal agency investigations, state attorneys general inquiries and General Accounting Office reviews. Among others, he represented Merck in its Vioxx litigation. He also negotiated a settlement with state attorneys general regarding the Countrywide Finance/Bank of America mortgage lending practices investigation."
"Transocean has supplemented its internal team with necessary external resources so that the company can be responsive," a Transocean spokesman said in an e-mail. "The company is fully cooperating with numerous public and private inquiries."
Beisner could not be reached for comment.
Correction:The story was corrected to change the status of two men who had been WilmerHale law firm partners. The late Lloyd Cutler and C. Boyden Gray are former partners.