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Offbeat A Coveted Lawyer’s Juggling Act May Be Good, and Bad, for Trump

04:53  03 september  2018
04:53  03 september  2018 Source:   nytimes.com

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WASHINGTON — It was a typically hectic day for William A. Burck as he juggled the demands of managing one of Washington’s premier white-collar law firms while he was in Paris for meetings on behalf of a corporate client facing corruption charges.

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The lawyer , David Gray, said that he anticipates that investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, plan to ask Mr. Corsi about his discussions with Mr. Stone, who appeared to publicly predict in 2016 that WikiLeaks A Coveted Lawyer ’ s Juggling Act May Be Good , and Bad , for Trump .

The lawyer , David Gray, said that he anticipates that investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, plan to ask Mr. Corsi about his discussions with Mr. Stone, who appeared to publicly predict in 2016 that WikiLeaks A Coveted Lawyer ’ s Juggling Act May Be Good , and Bad , for Trump .

But that was not all he was trying to manage from his room in a hotel near the Champs-Élysées last Wednesday. Part of the time he was on the phone dealing with the legal and political fallout from the abrupt dismissal that day of Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, one of at least a half dozen of his clients who work for President Trump or once did.

And part of the time he was signing off on the release of a final batch of documents related to the time that Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, spent as a senior aide in the George W. Bush White House. Hired by the former president, Mr. Burck supervised a team of lawyers that examined thousands of documents, a process that has been bitterly criticized by Democrats, who say Mr. Burck is an administration ally and longtime Kavanaugh friend who cannot be trusted.

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Democrats hope to use the fact that Mr. Burck oversaw a process that led to the withholding of more than 100,000 pages of documents to argue that they know too little about Judge Kavanaugh’s record to move ahead with his confirmation hearings on Tuesday.

The whirlwind multitasking captured the intensity of Mr. Burck’s behind-the-scenes role as the latest incarnation of the Washington superlawyer — a legal gun-for-hire like Edward Bennett Williams, the powerhouse of the 1970s and ’80s who liked to boast that he could represent everyone in the capital at once.

Mr. Williams had a catchphrase for his approach: He was not just a lawyer with a series of clients. He was “counsel to the situation.” And right now, Mr. Burck is playing a central role in two of the most volatile political “situations” in Washington, one involving the future of the Trump presidency and the other the future of the Supreme Court. And the situations could have very different outcomes.

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In one of those roles, Mr. Burck is advancing a top priority of the Trump administration: putting another conservative on the court. But he could end up advancing the interest of Democrats in another way — by aiding the investigation of Mr. Trump by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel.

It was Mr. Burck who devised the legal strategy behind Mr. McGahn’s giving more than 30 hours of testimony to the special counsel, and that testimony may have provided investigators with a road map for an obstruction case against the president.

Mr. Burck has also counseled other current and former White House officials through their interviews with investigators, including Reince Priebus, Mr. Trump’s first chief of staff, and Stephen K. Bannon, his former strategist. Some lawyers representing other defendants and witnesses in the Mueller investigation have raised questions about how Mr. Burck is being allowed to represent so many important witnesses, saying it presents a conflict.

While that work has attracted relatively little attention, his role in vetting the records related to Judge Kavanaugh, who was not only Mr. Burck’s boss when he was a young lawyer in the Bush White House but is also one of his closest friends, has made him a target.

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“Burck and Judge Kavanaugh share something in common — they are both partisan warriors who have consistently been at the center of hard-right battles, and their impartiality is therefore very deeply in doubt,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the chamber’s top Democrat.

This article is based on interviews with a dozen current and former White House officials, lawyers involved in the Mueller investigation, friends of Mr. Burck and Democrats involved in the Kavanaugh hearings. Mr. Burck said in a short statement that he would prefer to regain some of his anonymity.

“I get the interest in my popping up in some of the big issues of the day,” Mr. Burck said. “But it’s a mistake to believe lawyers are interesting because their clients are.”

A lifelong Republican, Mr. Burck never embraced Mr. Trump and has told friends that he would never work for him. During the 2016 campaign, he initially supported Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor. And it was Mr. Bush, not Mr. Trump, who chose Mr. Burck to go through his archives for any documents related to the work of Judge Kavanaugh.

Mr. Burck and Judge Kavanaugh have known each other for years, and their biographies are strikingly similar: Yale for their undergraduate and law degrees, clerkships with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and Judge Alex Kozinski, brief stints as prosecutors, and jobs in the Bush White House.

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After Mr. Bush left office, Mr. Burck began building a practice in Washington, focusing on conducting internal investigations and representing witnesses and defendants in cases brought by the Justice Department. He was also hired by the former president to be his personal lawyer, putting him in charge of access to millions of his presidential papers.

In one of his more high-profile cases, he represented Maureen McDonnell, who was indicted on corruption charges along with her husband, Bob McDonnell, the governor of Virginia, shortly after he left office. A year later, Mr. Burck began representing FIFA, the international soccer organization, as it was being investigated by the Justice Department.

Colleagues describe Mr. Burck, who runs the Washington office of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, as disciplined, driven, intense and passionate — especially about his beloved New England Patriots. (Mr. Burck flies to most Patriots games. In 2015, he spent many evenings with friends delivering a point-by-point evisceration of the “Deflategate” case against Tom Brady, the quarterback who was accused of purposely using a less-than-full football.)

Mr. Burck’s involvement with Trump administration officials began in the spring of 2017, when he got a call from Mr. McGahn, who knew that Mr. Burck had dealt with investigations under Mr. Bush, when that administration was under siege by Democrats. Mr. McGahn hired Mr. Burck as a lawyer to represent him in the nascent Russia investigation.

Mr. McGahn had not even been called as a witness yet, but given his proximity to the presidency and the intensifying inquiry, Mr. McGahn needed his own, outside legal adviser. For months, no one — including the president — even knew Mr. Burck had been hired.

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As the Russia inquiry mushroomed, other nervous White House staff members started looking for personal lawyers, too. Shortly after Mr. Burck began representing Mr. McGahn, Mr. Priebus, then the chief of staff, asked Mr. McGahn for a recommendation. A few months later, Mr. Bannon decided he needed a lawyer, too, and hired Mr. Burck.

“He’s on everybody’s short list as to who they want to get for bet-the-company cases,” said Richard Cullen, a onetime Virginia attorney general who has worked with, and against, Mr. Burck in courtrooms.

But the potential for conflicts of interest is high, and lawyers representing others caught up in the investigation have said that because Mr. Burck represents so many clients, he has too much power over what information is given to prosecutors.

Mr. Burck would have to stop representing one or more witnesses if one implicates another in a crime or has vastly different accounts of key events. Michael B. Mukasey, who served as attorney general under Mr. Bush, said Mr. Burck was a careful, disciplined lawyer who could manage the risks.

“It’s not as if something is going to come tumbling out his mouth that he wasn’t supposed to say,” Mr. Mukasey said. “He’s not that kind of guy.”

The immediate concern for Mr. Burck is the Kavanaugh documents. Before they vote on the nomination, Democrats have demanded to see more of them. But by insisting on a quick vote, Republicans have ensured that the National Archives cannot produce the documents in time.

Enter Mr. Burck, who hired a team of 50 lawyers from three firms, at Mr. Bush’s expense, to review the Kavanaugh documents.

In a letter to Mr. Burck last month, the general counsel of the Archives thanked Mr. Burck for his efforts, writing that “these documents will help us as we conduct our review.”

But publicly, officials at the Archives have described Mr. Burck’s effort as “something that has never happened before” and are distancing themselves from it. “This effort by former President Bush does not represent the National Archives or the George W. Bush Presidential Library,” they wrote in a news release.

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Democrats insist that the private process overseen by Mr. Burck is not governed by the same legal safeguards that the Archives has to follow. Most critically, they say they suspect that Mr. Burck is helping Judge Kavanaugh and the White House by making sure that potentially damaging documents do not emerge before the vote.

Late last week, when the White House cited executive privilege as the reason for keeping 100,000 pages secret, Democrats howled. Mr. Schumer called it a “Friday night document massacre” and accused Mr. Trump of orchestrating a “cover-up.”

In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday, Mr. Burck said Mr. Bush had deferred to the Trump administration on which documents to withhold. And in a separate letter to Mr. Schumer, Mr. Burck defended the process, pledging that it was not a partisan one.

“The lawyers reviewing the records have not been asked their political or party affiliation, nor have they been selected based on their support for or opposition to Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination,” Mr. Burck wrote.

In all, Mr. Burck’s lawyers evaluated 663,817 pages of documents. Of that total, they identified 267,834 pages that are to be made public, and 147,250 were just given to the Senate.

Democrats said that represented a small fraction of the total documents that could have been released, including hundreds of thousands of pages from Judge Kavanaugh’s time as Mr. Bush’s staff secretary. But allies of Mr. Burck say he would never purposely hide documents that he knows the National Archives will eventually release.

“Why would anybody, particularly somebody who has as much riding on his reputation as Bill Burck, play games with the production of documents?” Mr. Cullen said.

This summer has been a perfect storm for Mr. Burck, conspiring to dramatically raise his profile.

On the Senate floor earlier this summer, Mr. Schumer called Mr. Burck out by name, describing him as a “political operative” and a “longtime Republican lawyer,” and saying he was “hardly a font of impartiality. He’s a partisan.”

Mr. Burck declined to respond to Mr. Schumer. But Mr. Mukasey, who spoke to Mr. Burck in recent days, said he appeared to be shrugging off the newfound attention — at least for now.

“He didn’t seem to be weighed down by all of it,” Mr. Mukasey said. “He carries it lightly.”

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