The New York Times ombudsman in a column Sunday said former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff should be more forthcoming about his relevant clients when speaking with the news media.
Chertoff, who is also a former appeals court judge and was a head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division during the Bush administration, told the Times in recent articles that more body scanners should be installed in airports. The Times reporters, Eric Lipton and John Schwartz, were following up on the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the accused “underwear bomber” who allegedly tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airplane on Christmas Day.
The Times reporters failed to note that Chertoff is a consultant to a manufacturer of the scanning devices, resulting in this Jan. 15 Editor’s Note.
The reporters didn’t ask Chertoff about his clients, and he didn’t volunteer the information, the Times’s public editor, Clark Hoyt, wrote. Chertoff represents a manufacturer through the Chertoff Group, a risk-management firm he formed in March, Hoyt wrote.
“I always answer when I’m asked,” Chertoff told Hoyt. “But I don’t think it is my obligation to put myself in the head of a reporter” and pose the questions.
Chertoff did tell NPR and CNN interviewers about his business relationship when they asked, Hoyt reported.
Interestingly, Chertoff wrote an Op-Ed article for The Washington Post, published New Year’s Day, that carried a one-sentence biography divulging that his clients included a scanner manufacturer — a note he said he volunteered.
“If I’m affirmatively getting out there,” [Chertoff] said, as opposed to being called by a reporter, “I make it my business to disclose.”
That’s a distinction I don’t buy. What difference does it make whether a source seeks a forum or a reporter happens to call? Knowing Washington’s culture of revolving doors and news spin, the Times reporters should have asked the obvious question. But if Chertoff had a connection he thought the public needed to know in one instance, he should have made it clear in the others.
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David Ayres, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s chief of staff, apparently helped an associate of lobbyist Jack Abramoff secure $16.3 million in government funds for an Indian reservation jail in 2002, prosecutors said over the weekend.
The revelation that Ashcroft’s long-time top aide was involved in the controversial award for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians came Sunday in this government court filing in the Kevin Ring case.
Ring is a former lobbyist who worked closely with the now-imprisoned Abramoff at Greenberg Traurig LLP in Washington. The ongoing Abramoff investigation has netted a slew of guilty pleas and one conviction from lobbyists, congressional aides, a congressman, and executive branch officials. Jury selection for Ring’s trial on public corruption charges is slated to begin today.
Ayers, who is now CEO of Ashcroft’s consulting firm, The Ashcroft Group, is not accused of any crime. But his name surfaced in connection with the notorious Choctaw jail last week, when Ring’s lawyers filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle to compel the government to grant Ayres and his wife immunity to testify on Ring’s behalf.
David and Laura Ayres have indicated they will invoke their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination if called to testify, a filing by Ring last week said. Ring argues he needs the couple’s testimony to refute government charges he offered them tickets to basketball games at the MCI Center in Washington with the intent of influencing David Ayres’s official actions. But prosecutors have declined to grant immunity, the Ring filing said. Read our previous coverage here.
“Neither Ayres has been willing to speak to the government, which consequently has no idea what either would say about those events,” the government said in its Sunday filing, which also noted that Ayres didn’t report the basketball tickets from Ring on his government financial disclosure forms.
It’s not entirely clear what’s going on here. The government’s refusal to grant Ayres immunity could mean he’s a target of the probe. But it didn’t allege in Ring’s 2008 indictment any direct connection between Ayres’s official actions and the basketball tickets he received from Ring.
Rather, prosecutors said they believe Ring was dangling perks before Ayres in order to secure his assistance in the future. “The evidence at trial will show that Ring hoped and intended that David Ayres would ‘pay … back’ Ring and his lobbying colleagues for those and other things of value,” Sunday’s filing said.
Ring, a former aide to then-Sen. Ashcroft (R-Mo.) in the late 1990s, was indicted in 2008 on broad charges he corrupted public officials in Congress and the executive branch by offering them free meals at expensive restaurants and tickets to concerts and sporting events in exchange for official acts. Access to Abramoff’s exclusive suite at the MCI Center was one of the draws for public officials, the government alleges. (The downtown Washington sporting and concert venue has since been renamed the Verizon Center.) Ring has denied the charges.
Part of the indictment focuses on Ring’s efforts to secure the jail grant for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, who had been Abramoff clients since 1995. Ring maneuvered to thwart a lower-ranking DOJ official’s recommendation that the $16.3 million grant for the jail be cut nearly in half, the indictment says.
In a Jan. 22, 2002, email to Abramoff marked “COMPLETELY Confidential,” Ring wrote that he’d heard the DOJ official in charge of the jail grant “had kicked the final decision on the jail upstairs” to more senior DOJ officials after pressure from Ring, the indictment says. Six days later, Ring held a teleconference with an unidentified “senior DOJ official,” the indictment says.
A few days later, DOJ awarded the tribe the entire $16.3 million grant, according to the indictment.
Afterwards, Ring lobbied the DOJ to grant a waiver from a requirement the jail construction project be awarded through competitive bidding, the indictment says.
In the filing Sunday, the government identified Ayres as a senior DOJ official who helped Ring secure the full grant for the jail. Moreover, the government said Ring later intended to seek Ayres’s help to circumvent the competitive bidding rules for the jail’s construction.
Ring, with Abramoff’s consent, gave Ayres tickets in March 2002 to the March Madness NCAA college basketball tournament at the MCI Center, prosecutors said in their Sunday filing. Ayres appears to be the unnamed DOJ official in the indictment about whom Ring emailed a lobbying colleague on March 16, 2002: “Glad he got a chance to relax. Now he can pay us back.”
Then in January 2003, Laura Ayres asked Ring for “several expensive tickets” to a professional basketball game at the MCI Center, telling Ring they were a birthday gift for her husband, the government filing said. Ring gave the tickets to her, with Abramoff’s approval, the filing said.
Ayres did not respond to a request for comment.
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Attorney General Eric Holder and other Justice Department leaders have been granted ethics waivers to allow them to review matters related to the botched Sen. Ted Stevens case, the White House disclosed Friday.
A team of Justice lawyers is under investigation for their handling of the public corruption case against the former senator from Alaska. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan dismissed the charges against Stevens in April after a Justice Department review found that DOJ lawyers hadn’t made potentially exculpatory evidence available to the defense.
A special counsel appointed by Sullivan is conducting a criminal contempt probe of the DOJ lawyers, while the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is conducting a parallel internal ethics review of the case. Two of the DOJ lawyers under scrutiny have hired counsel from the law firms where Holder, Criminal Division chief Lanny Breuer and Deputy Attorney General David Ogden were partners.
Administration ethics rules require Justice appointees to recuse themselves from official matters in which their former law firms represent parties. Holder and Breuer were partners at Covington & Burling LLP and Ogden at WilmerHale.
“[T]he particular circumstances surrounding these investigations are unusual, and present important issues even at this early stage of the process,” the letters from Assistant Attorney General for Administration Lee Lofthus said. “It is highly unusual to have an investigation by the court concurrent with an OPR investigation, and it raises jurisdictional issues and questions concerning the authority of the special counsel and the proper relationships between OPR’s investigation and that of the special counsel.”
Read the letter to Holder here, to Ogden here, and to Breuer here.
Patty Stemler, chief of the Criminal Division’s appellate section, is fighting a civil contempt finding by Judge Sullivan in the Stevens case. She is represented by WilmerHale’s Howard M. Shapiro and Mary Katherine Gardner. It is unclear who is represented by Covington. Covington’s Mark Lynch represents Public Integrity Section chief William Welch II (along with Zuckerman Spaeder LLP’s William Taylor.)
The waivers were issued in May. The White House disclosed them on Friday as part of a transparency effort. Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, explained in a blog post here:
Several months ago, the public interest community suggested that we also make available in a central place limited waivers granted by other federal agencies besides the White House. Today, we are releasing all ten such agency-granted waivers (none of which involve lobbying). The President’s Executive Order calls for an annual report to be completed in early 2010 that will include all waivers granted pursuant to the Order. We are, however, pleased to make all of the pledge waivers granted to date by this Administration available now-more than four months early.
This article has been updated.
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New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie is weathering recent controversies stemming from his tenure as the state’s U.S. Attorney, a new poll finds. The Republican challenger leads New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) by 10 points among likely voters, or 47-37 percent, according to a Quinnipiac poll released today. The survey also found 7 percent of likely voters support independent candidate Christopher Daggett. A Quinnipiac poll taken three weeks ago found Christie with a narrower lead over Corzine, 46 to 40 percent. Daggett garnered 7 percent.
The new poll also found 77 percent of likely voters have seen ads produced by Corzine attacking Christie for contracts he awarded when he was New Jersey U.S. Attorney. Of those people, 56 percent said the ads are an unfair attack, compared with 36 percent who said the contacts are a legitimate campaign issue.
In addition, 49 percent of likely voters who have heard the news about an unreported loan Christie made to a then-subordinate in the U.S. Attorney office, Michele Brown, believe the Corzine camp’s criticisms of it are unfair. Forty-three percent said the attacks are fair. The poll also found 96 percent of likely voters believe government corruption is a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” problem. Voters associated Democrats with corruption, with 50 percent of likely voters saying Democrats are more likely to be corrupt compared with 16 percent who cited Republicans. Christie has campaigned on a platform of ethics reform.
The poll of 1,612 New Jersey likely voters was conducted Aug. 25 to 30 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.
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Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote a sharply worded opinion that rebuked the Hawaii U.S. Attorney’s Office for its conduct in a 2007 criminal case, The Honolulu Advertiser reported today.
Kozinski wrote that Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Gabriel Colwell inappropriately questioned defendant Rex Harrison during cross examination, according to the newspaper. Colwell was detailed to the office from the military as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney to the Hawaii office, the paper reported.
Harrison, a civilian contractor who installed secure computer networks on military bases, was convicted on two counts of assaulting military officers and sentenced to two years in prison. The judge overturned one of the counts, vacated Harrison’s prison sentence and sent the case back to the U.S. district court, according to The Advertiser.
“It’s black letter law that a prosecutor may not ask a defendant to comment on the truthfulness of another witness … but the prosecutors here did just that,” Kozinski wrote, adding that the questions were not “isolated incidents.”
Ninth U.S. Circuit Court Judge Jay Bybee was even more critical. In a dissenting opinion, the former Bush Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel chief — who’s been under his own ethics cloud for his role in authorizing brutal interrogation techniques — wrote that the entire case should be overturned.
The “outrageous behavior of the lead prosecutor” in the case was “so extensive that summarizing it all is no easy task,” Bybee wrote, the Advertiser reported.
“We do not permit attorneys to support or undermine witnesses by either vouching for their veracity (“Brutus is an honorable man”) or branding them unreliable (“All Cretans are liars”),” Bybee’s opinion said.
The office of U.S. Attorney Edward Kubo “conceded the impropriety” of the prosecutor’s questions in the appeal, Kozinski wrote but noted that Colwell and his co-prosecutor were on loan from the military, the opinion said.
“That’s no excuse at all,” Kozinski wrote. “When the United States Attorney endows lawyers with the powers of federal prosecutors, he has a responsibility to properly train and supervise them so as to avoid trampling defendants’ rights.”
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When Chris Christie was the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, he loaned one of his top aides $46,000 but didn’t report the loan on his personal financial disclosure forms or tax returns, The New York Times reported today. Christie, now the Republican candidate for New Jersey governor, has made ethics reform a centerpiece of his campaign while brushing off allegations from Democrats that his own ethics could use improving.
At the time the loan was made, Michele Brown was the No. 4 person in the office and supervised by Christie. Following Christie’s December 2008 decision to resign to launch his gubernatorial campaign, Brown was promoted to first assistant U.S. Attorney under interim U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra. According to an interview Christie gave to the New Jersey Network Monday evening, Brown asked for a loan when her husband, Mike, racked up credit card debt after losing his job. The U.S. Attorney obliged and received a second mortgage on Brown’s home, which was followed by regular payments by Brown.
In the interview, Christie said, “I just believe that if you have friends who are in need, that you help them, whether they work with you or whether they are friends of yours from outside the work realm. We were happy to be able to help, and they’ve been great about repaying the loan.” He also said, according to The Associated Press: ”This is a friendship, this portion of it, between me and Mary Pat [Christie's wife] and Michele and Mike, and we loaned them money on that basis.”
Christie’s campaign spokeswoman Maria Comella said she could not comment on the reason the loan was omitted from Christie’s ethics filings. However, Christie on Tuesday said that the omission was “pure oversight.” Christie said that he did not believe he needed to report the loan because Brown was paying it back. According to Christie, he did not see an ethical problem with loaning his subordinate money. He said, “There was nothing I was trying to conceal or hide” by omitting the information from his tax returns and disclosures. However, he said is fixing his “mistake” by amending his income tax and financial disclosure filings, The Associated Press reported. Christie said, “When I make mistakes, I’m going to admit them.”
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Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R) has a simple strategy for targeting his opponents, including incumbent New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D), The New York Times reported today.
A look at the former New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s career shows he has repeatedly used the whiff of corruption as a cudgel against political opponents, the Times said. But the Times questions his commitment to an ethics overhaul, citing his short-lived attempt to ban no-bid contracts as a freeholder (county commissioner).
Christie has linked Corzine with last month’s corruption probe into New Jersey officials, despite the fact the governor was not implicated in the case. He also has released a proposal for ethics reform, which he plans to “cram” down the throats of objecting state legislators if elected governor, the Times reported. Christie said, “They will refuse to act at their political peril.”
In the interview with the Times, Christie said that while he has been working against corruption for years, his efforts might be more effective now. “I’m more mature, and I’m convinced I’ll be more successful,” he said. He added: “I’m much better now than I was 15 years ago.”
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The Justice Department is no longer investigating former Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) over a 2003 golf trip to Scotland with convicted ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, The Hill reported Saturday.
The ex-congressman’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, told The Hill that federal officials informed him that DOJ has dropped its probe. A DOJ spokesperson declined to comment to Main Justice.
Feeney served in the House from 2003 until 2009. Feeney lost in November to Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.), who railed against the ex-congressman over his connections with Abramoff.
“Everybody that loves Tom is glad that it’s over with but still feel a lot of frustration that it dragged out as long as it did and cost him his seat in Congress,” former Feeney Chief of Staff Jason Roe told The Hill.
The former member of Congress agreed to pay $5,643 to the Treasury for his trip after he was scolded by the House ethics committee.
The DOJ investigation became public after the FBI asked several Florida newspapers for information about Feeney.
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A conservative legal group asked the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct this week to investigate whether House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-Mich.) was a player in his wife’s corruption scandal, The Washington Post reported today.
Former Detroit City Council member Monica Conyers resigned from her post last month after she pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of conspiring to commit bribery. She could spend up to five years in prison for allegedly accepting at least $6,000 to support a $1.2 billion waste disposal contract for Synagro Technologies.
The Landmark Legal Foundation called 0n the House ethics committee to investigate whether the House member broke any rules by not recording on his financial disclosure forms payments his wife took, according to The Post. A spokesperson for the congressman declined to comment to The Post.
The legal group also asked the panel to look into a 2007 letter in which the House Judiciary chair asked the Environmental Protection Agency to quickly approve a waste project that would have helped a backer of his wife, The Post said. The letter originally came from his wife’s office. The spokesperson for the congressman told The Post he made the request to help his constituents. Read our detailed report on the allegations here.
Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Terrence Berg said his office doesn’t have any evidence that would connect the congressman to his wife’s illegal activities. Several news outlets have reported that Conyers and his wife have led relatively separate lives during their 20-year marriage.
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It would have been hard to add more drama to the April 7 hearing in the Ted Stevens case, which began with a humiliating admission from the government of prosecution errors and ended with dismissal of all charges against the former senator from Alaska.
But Judge Emmet Sullivan managed to pull one last rabbit out of the hat. As the hearing ended, he announced a criminal contempt investigation of the Stevens prosecutors. And a lawyer named Henry F. Schuelke III would lead it, Sullivan said.
Well-known and broadly admired among Washington’s fraternity of top-tier lawyers, “Hank,” as Schuelke prefers to be called, has cultivated a reputation for discretion. It’s a trait that has served the white collar criminal defense and investigations lawyer well over the years, in matters involving U.S. senators, judges, law firms, and lawyers.
In making the Schuelke appointment, Sullivan essentially signaled an end to the phase of public flagellation of the Stevens prosecutors. Schuelke would take on the delicate task of figuring out how the case went so wrong – and whether anyone had intentionally misled the defense.
Schuelke is the ultimate behind-the-scenes Washington counselor, and much of his work stops where the public record begins. In the course of a 41-year career, he has represented scores of high-profile clients, from President Jimmy Carter’s budget director, Bert Lance, to former Enron Corp. Treasurer Ben Glisan Jr.
After the April 7 hearing, Sullivan told me he received “countless calls, emails and comments” from D.C. judges and lawyers. They used words like “outstanding,” “perfect choice,” and “a home run,” to describe Schuelke’s appointment.
The federal judiciary is paying Schuelke $200 an hour to investigate the Stevens prosecutors, a fraction of the rate he would charge a private client. (His friends put him in the $750 to $1,000 range.) The lawyers representing the six prosecutors under investigation are also receiving $200 an hour. The Justice Department is footing their fees as well.
So for the lawyers involved, the case obviously isn’t about money. But it gives them something more valuable: the ability to tell clients they were in the thick of a sensitive investigation that could have consequences far beyond the Stevens case.
Broader Review Possible
A criminal prosecution would likely gut the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section of its top officials and add fuel to a broader review of PIN’s recent work.
William Welch II, the section’s chief, and his deputy, Brenda Morris, are both subjects of Sullivan’s criminal contempt investigation. They remain in supervisory roles, according to the Justice Department.
But two other prosecutors on the Stevens team, Nicholas Marsh and Edward Sullivan, were recently transferred out of the section to the Office of International Affairs, a department redoubt that offers scant opportunity for court appearances. Alaska-based Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Bottini and James Goeke, who are also under investigation, have continued in their current positions.
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsiblity is conducting a parallel investigation, and the Criminal Divison is reviewing other Alaska-related corruption prosecutions, after Justice lawyers exhumed additional documents that were withheld from two convicted Alaska state representatives.
People familiar with the criminal contempt investigation say Schuelke is moving at a steady pace, culling thousands of documents from the Justice Department, though he’s had little contact with the prosecutors’ lawyers — an enviable clutch that includes Hogan & Hartson’s Chuck Rosenberg, the former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; O’Melveny & Myers partner Ken Wainstein, a former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia; and Patton Boggs partner Robert Luskin, former special counsel to DOJ’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Section.
Schuelke’s progress is difficult to track. His friends and colleagues told me he never discusses cases with them, unless they’re involved, and he rarely talks to reporters on the record. (He declined to be interviewed for this story.) His law partner of 30 years, N. Richard Janis, recalled his time working with Schuelke as counsel to the Senate ethics committee. Beginning in the late 1980s, the two lawyers spent 20 months investigating influence-peddling accusations against then-New York Sen. Alfonso D’Amato (R).
“There was never a leak of anything we did. We handled it in a very quiet and discreet manner,” Janis said. “If I were to draw a parallel, Hank’s view of his current assignment is very much the same.”
Throughout his career, Schuelke has seasoned his private practice with work for various bodies that police professional standards and ethics: the Senate ethics committee, the Judicial Tenure and Disabilities Commission, the Committee on Grievances for U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Morgan Lewis & Bockius partner Biz Van Gelder, who has known Schuelke for 20 years, called his ethics work “the functional equivalent of his pro bono.” She said, “He’s very well-versed in matters of professional responsibility and very well-versed in Brady and Giglio. He’s been doing this stuff for years” — all of it behind closed doors.
Van Gelder went on, “There are trial attorneys and there are counselors, and I think he’s always had more of an interest in being a counselor.”
His discretion in his professional life contrasts starkly with the flamboyant playthings of his personal life. He owns five motorcycles (two Harley-Davidsons, one of which his wife rides; a 1970 Norton Commando; a 1977 BMW R100s; and a Ducati Sport 1000). He drives a 1998 Porche 911 to his Dupont Circle office. And he keeps a 40-foot Bertram Sportfisherman and a Boston-Whaler Runabout at his home on the Chesapeake Bay.
The collection is at least a partial measure of his success, and the success of his seven-lawyer firm, Janis, Schuelke & Wechsler. The firm’s Web site is proudly unglamorous, a relic of 1990s-era design. There are no numbers for any media-relations specialists, no interactive graphics, no photos of the lawyers. The offices are located in an historic, brownstone row house on a leafy stretch of Massachusetts Avenue. The quaintness belies a steady flow of high-profile clients and ironclad relationships with larger firms around the city.
When I asked Janis to talk about some of the Schuelke’s triumphs, he paused. “One of the problems is that some of our best achievements nobody knows about.”
We All Respect Mr. Schuelke
Boards of directors, law firms and lawyers have relied on Schuelke and his colleagues. When the Jack Abramoff scandal exploded in 2004, Greenberg Traurig, the disgraced lobbyist’s firm, hired Schuelke to conduct the internal investigation. The work was highlighted recently in the case of one of Abramoff’s former associates, Kevin Ring, who is accused of lavishing lawmakers with free gifts, trips and meals, in return for helping his clients. The Public Integrity Section is handling the case, and Schuelke is a government witness. Welch, who has supervised the section since 2006, partially recused himself from the case after Ring’s defense lawyers raised questions about a potential conflict.
The incident underscored the close-knit nature of Washington’s legal community. Ring’s lawyer, Miller & Chevalier partner Richard Hibey, is one of Schuelke’s close friends.
“We’re proceeding on good faith on this, I hope you understand, especially given the relationships outside the courtroom you and I both enjoy,” Hibey told U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle, at an April 20 hearing in Washington.
“Right,” Huvelle said. “We all respect Mr. Schuelke.”
Grand Christmas Parties
Schuelke’s firm is known for its grand Christmas parties. For a few hours each year, the row house is thronged with the District’s top lawyers, judges and prosecutors. (“Everybody goes. It’s like peace on earth and goodwill to all men,” Van Gelder said.) This is not an idle fact, but a reflection of the firm’s business model: Schuelke and his partners are fed much of their work from other lawyers.
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom partner Robert Bennett said he regularly refers clients to Schuelke. The two have known each other for more than 20 years, and it was Bennett who recommended Schuelke for the special counsel position on the Commission for Judicial Disabilities and Tenure. (Bennett held the job before Shuelke.)
“When I have a need, I certainly recommend him,” Bennett said.
Crowell & Moring partner Rick Beizer, who has known Schuelke for nearly 40 years, said he often looked to Schuelke when he was representing a corporate client and needed counsel for a high-level executive.
“My first choice was always Hank. Sooner or later, he demonstrated his talents to my partners who work on these types of cases, and he became their go-to guy,” Beizer said.
Sparring with Edward Bennett Williams
Schuelke grew up in Maplewood, N.J., the second-oldest among three sisters. His father, Henry Schuelke Jr., was an underwriter for Metropolitan Life Insurance in New York. His mother, Eleanor Carton Schuelke, was a dietician, and later taught home economics and family living at a high school in West Orange, N.J. Shuelke’s older sister, Margie Schuelke, who still lives in Maplewood, said her brother was an easy-going kid — the kind who made friends easily, brought home stray dogs and generally stayed out of trouble.
His sister described Schuelke as a devoted husband and father of two who dotes on his four grandchildren, one of whom was born earlier this month. He’s a hard worker, Margie Schuelke said, “but he knows how to enjoy himself, and he enjoys nothing more than his family.”
Schuelke attended St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, where he majored in English and was editor of the yearbook. He was a strong student, and the family was proud, but not surprised, when he was accepted into Villanova University School of Law.
After he graduated in 1967, Schuelke joined the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He spent nearly four years as a JAG officer, including three as a military judge, before joining the U.S. attorney’s office in 1972. Beizer, who is also a former assistant U.S. attorney, said Schuelke established himself early on as one of the office’s top prosecutors.
“He got it right away. He has an uncanny sense for getting to the heart of any matter,” Beizer said. “I’m one of those guys who has to read every document and mull it around six ways to Sunday. I’m not sure how the hell he does it, but if he could patent it, I’d buy it.”
Schuelke was eventually elevated to executive assistant U.S. attorney, the third-in-command, in the late 1970s. From that perch, he was involved in every major case the office handled.
In 1978, Schuelke and Beizer famously squared off against Edward Bennett Williams, the founder of Williams & Connolly, and two of his proteges, Gregory Craig (now President Obama’s White House Counsel) and David Kendall (President Bill Clinton’s personal lawyer during impeachment). Williams and his colleagues were defending developer Dominic Antonelli Jr., the chairman of Parking Management Inc. (PMI), against charges that he bribed a D.C. public official in exchange for building leases.
The young prosecutors won at trial in Washington, but the verdict was ultimately thrown out on the grounds of juror bias. The case was re-tried in Philadelphia, and Williams won. Schuelke’s family drove down from North Jersey to watch the show. They were impressed with Schuelke’s pluck, as was Williams, an icon then as now.
The scene after the verdict is recounted in Evan Thomas‘ biography of Williams, The Man to See. When congratulated after the trial, Williams gave a desultory answer. “Victory?” he said. “All we did was split a double-header.”
That was the last case Schuelke tried as a federal prosecutor before founding his firm, in 1979, with Janis and Lawrence Wechsler, another veteran of the District’s U.S. attorney’s office. Schuelke’s first client as a private lawyer was Carter’s budget director, Lance, who was accused of misusing bank funds. Lance was acquitted of most of the counts and the jury deadlocked on the balance. The Justice Department elected to drop the case.
He has since represented several other high-profile clients, including White House Secretary Carolyn Huber, who found Hillary Clinton’s Rose Law firm billing records during the Whitewater investigation; Tyson Foods lobbyist Jack Williams; and former Time reporter Viveca Novak, in connection with the CIA leak case.
And then there are the ones we’ll never know about.
Now, Schuelke is again at the invisible center of another high-profile probe.
During the six-day gap between the Justice Department’s April 1 motion to dismiss the Stevens case and the April 7 hearing at which Sullivan granted it, the judge made two decisions. The first was hard. The second was easy.
Sullivan, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, pored over the record, and after “much consideration,” resolved to appoint an outside counsel to investigate the six prosecutors for criminal contempt, according to an e-mail from his chambers in response to a list of questions. The government’s numerous failures to turn over potentially exculpatory documents to Stevens’ lawyers had driven the case off a cliff. But the wreckage deserved further inspection, the judge determined.
After the hard decision was made, Sullivan moved on to the easy choice: Hiring Schuelke to lead the probe.
Sullivan knew Schuelke from their days serving together on the D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure. The judge was a member of the commission from 1996 to 2001. Since 1982, Schuelke has been the commission’s special counsel, a low-profile but powerful position, the duties of which include investigating hundreds of allegations of judicial misconduct each year and gauging judges’ fitness to serve on the local bench. (Attorney General Eric Holder was also a member of the commission while a partner at Covington & Burling.)
Sullivan said he was swayed by Schuelke’s ability to handle sensitive matters with “great skill, intelligence, discretion, honesty, and fairness.” The judge also sought someone with prosecutorial experience — Schuelke’s seven years as an assistant U.S. attorney in the District fit the bill. Sullivan also cited Schuelke’s service as a military judge and as special counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.
Sullivan told me in an interview in his courtroom last month that he has received calls from judges around the country, bemoaning the government’s discovery practices and supporting his efforts to reform them. Some, such as Chief Judge Mark Wolf of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, have joined Sullivan in publicly scolding the department for violating discovery obligations.
Sullivan has petitioned the federal judiciary’s policy-making body to stiffen rules governing discovery practices. Failing that, he said he would push his court to adopt local rules, and as a last resort, he said he is considering issuing standing orders in each of his cases to ensure timely production.
Holder, Sullivan added, deserves much praise for dropping the Stevens case and requiring additional evidence training for Justice Department lawyers.
No doubt Hank Schuelke will have some advice to offer at some point – but he’ll do it with total discretion, of course.
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