By Janet Phelan
Much has been written about the revolving door between government service and the Washington, DC law firm of Covington and Burling. The recent return of former Attorney General Eric Holder to his previous position at Covington has sparked accusations and outrage among pundits.
Much of the focus of this outrage has been on Holder’s failure to prosecute Wall Street miscreants, who happen to be clients of Covington. The law firm’s client list includes Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase.
Slamming Holder as a “double agent for Wall Street,” Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi wrote:
Holder denied there was anything weird about returning to one of Wall Street’s favorite defense firms after six years of letting one banker after another skate on monstrous cases of fraud, tax evasion, market manipulation, money laundering, bribery and other offenses.
Eric Holder worked for the firm from 2001 up until 2009, when he was confirmed as Attorney General for the Obama administration. Prior to working for Covington, he had worked in the Public Integrity Division of the Justice Department from 1976-1988, at which point he accepted a position as a federal judge.
As of 2015, Covington and Burling was the largest law firm in DC, with offices in London, Beijing, Brussels, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, Silicon Valley and, of course, Washington. According to the Vault’s 2012 citations, it is the most prestigious law firm to work for in DC, the #11 most prestigious law firm to work for in the United States and the #6 most selective law firm in the United States.
Covington has made The American Lawyer’s “A List” consecutively for the past three years. The firm also tied for #2 on the 2007 Schiltz 100, a ranking that inversely correlates profits per partner and firm prestige.
After resigning as Attorney General in 2015, Holder returned to Covington and Burling, which reportedly had kept his office unoccupied and awaiting his return during his stint as top lawman in the US government.
Holder is not the only former government official to find a nesting place at the firm. Lanny Breuer, former Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the US Department of Justice, returned to Covington in 2013 after leaving government employ. James Garland was Holder’s Deputy Chief of Staff before rejoining Covington in 2010. None other than Michael Chertoff, former head of the Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush, maintains an office at Covington. The firm’s website boasts that its staff includes “a U.S. Attorney (EDNY), two Assistants to White House Counsel, eight AUSA’s (including one from Boston), two DOJ Civil Fraud Section Attorneys, and three DA’s.”
As it turns out, that’s a somewhat modest declaration. Opensecrets.org lists 107 attorneys who have been through the Covington/US government revolving door. Missing from that list is the name of John Bolton, a Covington lawyer from 1974 to 1981. Bolton served as Ambassador to the United Nations between August 2005 and December 2006.
It is telling that Bolton regarded the UN as essentially a tool of US interests. In a 1994 Global Structures Convocation hosted by the World Federalist Association (now Citizens for Global Solutions), he stated,
(…) there is no United Nations… there is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that´s the United States, when it suits our interests, and when we can get others to go along.
Matt Taibbi has called Covington and Burling “the shadow Justice Department.” In a recent interview on Democracy Now!, Taibi stated,
It’s a secondary club. What happens when all these people have this congenial relationship, they end up making deals that are much more favorable to their clients than there would be otherwise.
Writes Taibbi, “In any civilized country, it’d be a scandal. In America, though, he’s just another guy selling whatever he can to get by. It was just too bad that what Holder had to sell was the criminal justice system.”
The cozy relationship between government and the private sector via the big law firm reaches far beyond enabling the banksters. A close scrutiny of the firm’s impact on health-related issues reveals a queasy interdependence which has resulted in adjudications that might raise the bar of alarm. In other words, Covington and Burling may be hazardous to your health.
Case in point would be the firm’s aggressive representation of the manufacturer of the anti- psychotic drug, Seroquel. The drug is a blockbuster, with over $5.8 billion in sales in 2011 alone. Hundreds of suits, filed in federal court, claimed that AstraZeneca failed to provide adequate warning that the drug caused diabetes. AstraZeneca ended up paying out about $520 million in settlements.
As pointed out here this is just a drop in the bucket for the pharmaceutical giant. The entry discusses the math involved in these lawsuit settlements vs the drug revenues and estimates that the total revenues for Seroquel have benefited AstraZeneca to the tune of “somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-50 billion dollars in total revenue….so, when you take away 2 billion (after factoring in the settlements and the price of legal counsel) from between 30 & 50 billion dollars in profitable sales; you can see clearly that corporate crime pays quite handsomely.”
Subsequently, Covington’s life sciences group helped AstraZeneca partner with Bristol-Myers Squibb in a $7 billion deal to buy a leading diabetes drug maker. You read that right. After paying out settlements for not warning the public that its drug causes diabetes, AZ bought a diabetes drug maker.
Covington lawyer Eric R. Sonnenschein defended Merck Pharmaceuticals at the International Trade Commission in a patent infringement matter involving Merck’s NuvaRing product. Nuvaring, which is a contraceptive device, was subsequently hit with over 1,700 lawsuits alleging that the drug caused embolisms and strokes, some of which were fatal. In early 2014, Merck reportedly agreed to settle the NuvaRing lawsuits for a total of $100 million.
In addition, Covington lawyers are defending pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim in over 5,000 claims alleging blood-thinning drug Pradax causes severe bleeding. According to Legal 500, Covington has “favorably” resolved the majority of claims.
Covington also represents Hoffman-LaRoche in the litigation surrounding claims that the acne medication Accutane has caused depression, birth defects, inflammatory bowel disease and suicide. After citing initial wins in this litigation, Hoffman-LaRoche was subsequently hit with thousands of Accutane cases, which have been consolidated in a New Jersey Court. Just this August, Roche won on appeal and had a $25 million dollar Accutane verdict overturned, adding to three other recent Accutane successes. Drugsanddevices blogspot offers this: “Congratulations to Covington and Burling, which we think has now won reversal of every adverse Accutane verdict in the New Jersey mass tort litigation.”
Roche pulled Accutane off the US market in 2009. However, Accutane is still sold in other countries. The drug is available in Canada and in the UK, marketed as Roaccutane. This past May, The Daily Mail reported twenty suicides in the past two years in Great Britain attributed to Roaccutane.
Covington is also defending Merck in the Fosamax litigations. Fosamax, which is prescribed as a treatment for osteoporosis, has been alleged to cause bone weakening, fracture and a debilitating condition known as “jaw death.”
In June of 2014, a New Jersey judge ordered that all Fosamax claims be dismissed. Many of these are being appealed at the US Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.
And just to drive the point home, did you notice who represented BP in that massive oil spill of 2010? The Deepwater Horizon spill killed 11 crew members and leaked millions of barrels of crude into the Gulf, causing an ongoing environmental crisis. BP’s four star legal team included lawyers from Covington.
And if that weren’t cozy enough, Eric Holder, during his pre-AG stint at Covington, represented Chiquita Brands when it was charged with engaging in transactions with terrorists for paying Colombian paramilitary groups $1.7 million from 1997 to 2004. In 2007, the banana company pleaded guilty to making payments to Colombian militias.
A federal appeals court subsequently dismissed thousands of claims by Colombians who claimed that they or their relatives were tortured or killed by the paramilitary groups.
President Obama must not have noticed the continuing impact of Covington on policy. Dated January of 2009, Obama’s White House website declares that “ …he closes the revolving door that allows government officials to move to and from private sector jobs in ways that give that sector undue influence over government.”
And you can take that to the bank!
Janet C. Phelan, investigative journalist and human rights defender that has traveled pretty extensively over the Asian region, an author of a tell-all book EXILE, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.