Sixteen former Watergate prosecutors have notified Emmet Sullivan, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, that they intend to file an “amicus curiae” (“friend of the court”) brief in the case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn after the Department of Justice (DOJ) moved to dismiss the charges against him.
Flynn had previously pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators, but he moved to withdraw that plea earlier this year, followed by the DOJ decision last week.
Sullivan, however, has not yet approved the DOJ’s motion and made the unusual move this week of announcing that he would accept such amicus briefs in the case. Sullivan is a trial judge in a trial court and amicus briefs are typically associated with appellate courts.
Already swooping in were 16 former Watergate prosecutors, who told the court they want to weigh in on the DOJ’s motion to drop charges against Flynn. This roster includes a number of Democratic donors and others who have been critical of President Trump before.
“In their roles as Watergate prosecutors, Amici investigated serious abuses of power by President Richard M. Nixon and prosecuted many of President Nixon’s aides for their complicity in his offenses,” the Watergate prosecutors’ statement of interest reads.
They continued: “Here, where the Motion seeks to reverse a prosecutorial judgment previously entrusted to and made by Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, the value the Watergate Prosecutors’ unique perspective on the need for independent scrutiny and oversight to ensure that crucial decisions about prosecutions of high-ranking government officials are made in the public interest, are viewed as legitimate, and are not subsequently reversed by political intervention.”
Specifically, in a separate notice that they intend to file an amicus brief, the Watergate prosecutors note that “[t]he Government’s Motion also does not adequately address questions of this Court’s heightened Article III role in light of the posture of this case, with the Defendant having pled guilty and awaiting sentencing. A guilty plea represents a turning point between ‘the Executive’s traditional power over charging decisions and the Judiciary’s traditional authority over sentencing decisions.'”
Here’s a look at each of the Watergate prosecutors who intend to weigh in on the Flynn case.
Nick Akerman – Akerman, the first name on the list, is currently a partner at a New York City area law firm, according to his Linkedin account.
But that is not what the former Watergate prosecutor is famous for.
Rather, Akerman is an MSNBC contributor with a long history of criticizing Trump and a Twitter account filled with broadsides against the president.
A tweet from April 14 says that “Trump’s withholding of funds from the WHO is an obvious attempt to shift blame from himself for his dithering response over 3 months to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Another tweet from April 13 reposts a video by the “resistance” film company Eleven Films that uses a speech by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., to attack the president.
Akerman, in a 2017 appearance on MSNBC, said that Donald Trump Jr. committed “outright treason.”
“I mean there is no question that what he is doing is giving aid and comfort to the enemy,” Akerman said of Trump Jr’s efforts to secure dirt on Hillary Clinton in a summer 2016 meeting with a woman who purported to represent the Russian government. Trump Jr., defending himself, said he believed the meeting was about simple political opposition research.
Akerman donated $35 to the Democratic National Committee in 2018 and more than $100 to former President Obama’s campaign in 2012.
Richard Ben-Veniste – Ben-Veniste is a partner at the D.C. law firm Mayer Brown for which he handles civil and white-collar criminal cases.
He does not have the kind of ubiquitous Twitter presence that Akerman has, but was a CNN legal analyst from 2017 to 2019.
In a 2019 appearance on the network, Ben-Veniste called the content of the House of Representatives’ impeachment hearings into Trump’s handling of security funding for Ukraine “extraordinarily disturbing.”
“There is a very strong case now that the president subverted American national security interests for his personal political objectives,” Ben-Veniste said.
Ben-Veniste also has a long history working in government outside of the Watergate prosecution. He was the chief counsel for the Democrats in the Senate Whitewater Committee in the 1990s and served on the 9/11 Commission, among several other roles, according to his biography on Mayer Brown’s website.
Ben-Veniste donated $1,000 each to Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., in 2017. He gave Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign $2,700.
Richard J. Davis – Davis’ history of government service outside of his role as a Watergate prosecutor, according to a biography on his personal law practice’s website, included a role in the Iranian hostage crisis and a stint with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. He was also a partner at a private law firm for 30 years.
Davis is less publicly political than some of his fellow Watergate prosecutors, but he did say in a 2015 opinion piece for CNN that he financially contributed to an effort to convince Joe Biden to run for president in 2016.
In the same CNN piece, Davis was vaguely critical of Hillary Clinton’s ethics history, but the criticism was framed more as advice for her campaign than an attack on the candidate.
Davis has donated thousands of dollars to Democrats since 2019, including $2,800 to Joe Biden in April 2019.
Carl B. Feldbaum – Feldbaum is currently on the board of directors for BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH), a health-oriented nonprofit. Besides his Watergate service, Feldbaum was previously the chief of staff for late Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., according to his BVGH bio, and wrote the book “Looking the Tiger in the Eye: Confronting the Nuclear Threat.”
Feldbaum gave $2,800 to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign in January, $100 to the Democratic National Committee in 2018, and donated to Obama’s campaign on multiple occasions.
George T. Frampton, Jr. – Frampton is the founder and CEO of the environmental nonprofit Partnership for Responsible Growth. Frampton also served in several roles within the Clinton administration, specifically as the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and as the deputy director and chief of staff for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s probe of the nuclear incident on Three Mile Island, according to his bio on the Partnership for Responsible Growth website.
Frampton has donated thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates since 2018, including $150 to Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., in 2020 and $250 to Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., in 2019.
Kenneth S.Geller – Geller, like Ben-Veniste, is a lawyer for Mayer Brown, specifically focusing on Supreme Court and appellate law. He served a nine-year stint as the firm’s managing partner. Geller was also the Deputy Solicitor General of the United States for seven years in the 1970s and 1980s under the Carter and Reagan administrations.
Geller donated $200 to Joe Biden in March of this year and $100 to Biden in April of last year.
Gerald Goldman – Goldman, according to his byline on a 2018 opinion piece for NBC News, served as a volunteer attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental organization that has been sharply critical of President Trump. He is also a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice William Brennan.
The NBC News piece, which he authored with fellow Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks, advocated for former Special Counsel Robert Mueller to release information on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible Trump campaign involvement ahead of the official conclusion of his investigation.
Goldman donated $500 to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and $2,500 to Obama in 2012.
Jill Wine-Banks – Wine-Banks, Goldman’s co-author on the NBC News opinion piece, is an MSNBC contributor and legal analyst. She also served as a general counsel of the U.S. Army under Carter.
Wine-Banks maintains an active Twitter presence, which is sharply critical of Trump. A recent tweet from Wine-Banks says that Trump is, “trying to undermine DOJ, FBI and our rule of law and justice by having Barr dismiss Flynn charges after guilty plea and lowering Stone sentencing recommendation. Dangerous. If reelected, nothing will stop him.”
She also posted a political cartoon comparing Attorney General Bill Barr to the coronavirus.
Wine-Banks donated $25 to Amy Klobuchar in January and $2,800 to Biden in March.
Stephen E. Haberfeld – Haberfield, after his time as a Watergate prosecutor, served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge and a U.S. District Court judge before retiring from the bench. Now, he is a sports and entertainment arbitrator for the firm JAMS.
Haberfield’s last political donation was a $1,000 contribution to Sen Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in 1994.
Henry L. Hecht – Hecht is currently a resident lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley Law School. He serves on and writes for a number of professional law organizations, including the American Bar Association and the American Law Institute, according to his Berkeley bio.
Hecht also runs an organization that provides skill training for lawyers, specifically in depositions, direct and cross-examination and more.
Hecht donated $1,000 to Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., in 2017 and $154 to Bernie Sanders in 2015 and 2016.
Paul R. Hoeber – Hoeber has not kept as high a profile as many of the other former Watergate prosecutors in recent years. But he did argue a false advertising case against Nike before the Supreme Court in the early 2000s. The high court punted on the case, not coming to a ruling on the merits.
Hoeber was also one of the Watergate prosecutors who called for Trump’s impeachment in the 2019 Washington Post op-ed.
Hoeber donated $600 to Obama in 2012.
Philip Allen Lacovara – Lacovara was a clerk on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and the vice president and senior counsel of General Electric, according to a 2005 profile of him on the D.C. Bar Association’s website.
More recently, Lacovara authored a 2017 piece in the Washington Post criticizing Trump for his liberal use of pardons and warned that there is a chance the House of Representatives could find that Trump’s use of pardons to “squelch an investigation into criminal misconduct by people close to the president constitutes an impeachable offense.”
Separately, Lacovara said in an interview with America Magazine that Watergate “pales in comparison to what the investigations of President Trump’s conduct have revealed.”
Lacovara has donated $500 to Joe Biden this cycle, but has previously donated to Republicans. Specifically, Lacovara donated $700 to Mitt Romney in 2012, $250 to Newt Gingrich in 2011 and $500 to the Republican National Convention in 2008.
Paul R. Michel – Michael, in the wake of his service as a Watergate prosecutor, was nominated by Reagan to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in 1978. where he served until 2010, when he retired, according to a profile on the Federalist Society’s website. Michael has participated in multiple forums on patent law with the Federalist Society, a legal organization for conservatives and libertarians, since his retirement from the federal bench.
Michael has even submitted an “amicus curie” or “friend-of-the-court” brief in a Supreme Court case as recently as 2019.
According to Bloomberg Law, Michael has also previously been the chief of staff for Specter, a job Feldbaum also held, and as the U.S. Associate Deputy Attorney General.
Michael donated $1,000 to Sen Chris Coons, D-Del., in October 2019 and $1,500 to Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., in August 2019. He also donated $6,000 to Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., between 2018 and 2019.
Robert L. Palmer – Palmer is a private lawyer based out of Los Angeles. Outside of his Watergate service, Palmer previously served as a law clerk on the D.C. Circuit and during the 1990s was on the board of directors for the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest.
He was one of a number of former Watergate prosecutors who signed the 2019 Washington Post op-ed calling for Trump’s impeachment.
Palmer donated $100 to Amy Klobuchar in March 2019 and $1,000 to Elizabeth Warren in 2011.
Frank Tuerkheimer – Tuerkheimer is a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School. According to his university bio, Turkheimer has previously represented the Siera Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, two environmental protection organizations.
Tuerkheimer has commented on the Flynn prosecution in the past during an interview with freelance journalist Jim Bessman.
“It might be in Trump’s personal interest that the investigation against Flynn not go ahead, but not the national interest,” he said. “These are obligations to the country—not him.”
Tuerkheimer donated $100 to Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., in 2018; $250 to Democrat Russ Feingold, who lost the Wisconsin Senate race to Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., in 2016; and $250 to Obama in 2008.
Roger Witten – Witten is a senior counsel to Campaign Legal Center, an organization that uses litigation to influence election law with the goal of “fighting for every American’s rights to responsive government and a fair opportunity to participate in and affect the democratic process.”
Witten has worked in election law for most of his post-Watergate career, chairing the Election Law Committee of the Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice of the American Bar Association, among several other posts.
Witten donated $500 to Biden in March; $100 to Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., in 2019; $1,500 to Lauren Baer, a failed Florida congressional candidate in 2018; $250 to Clinton in 2016; and $2,500 to Obama in 2011.