Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
DALLAS — Within the first seven minutes of the nearly two-hour Michael Moore blockbuster “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a news clip appears of Baker Botts partner and former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker III. In the clip, Baker, who led a team of lawyers representing President Bush during the Florida recount battle in 2000, defends the president’s triumph in that fight. “I think all this talk about legitimacy is way overblown,” Baker says on camera. Credited by reviewers for his filmmaking talent but criticized by political pundits for his perceived lack of nuance and unfair juxtapositions, Moore’s movie made $61 million in its first 11 days of release, a box-office record for a documentary. The movie’s central theme, boiled down, is controversial: The Bush administration was unfairly installed by the U.S. Supreme Court despite a disputed election, and the administration subsequently coaxed the American public into supporting an invasion into Iraq under false pretenses — that its leader Saddam Hussein presented a threat to the United States. To develop that theme, Moore makes allegations and insinuations about the ties that Bush, his father and his advisers (including Baker, his partners and his firm, Houston-based Baker Botts) had and have to the Saudi royal family, defense contractors and oil companies — all of whom, Moore contends, stood to benefit politically or financially from a U.S. invasion into Iraq. But Baker Botts seems unconcerned. “I think people pretty much understand anyone can string together words and video to make an impression,” says Walter Smith, Baker Botts’ managing partner. All told, “Fahrenheit 9/11″ contains half-a-dozen references to Baker Botts or its partners, and the movie portrays several lawyers at the firm as handmaidens to Bush and the Saudis. After the clip of Baker during the Florida recount, the following Baker Botts-related scenes appear in the film: Baker Botts partner and former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan appears in a clip from a TV news interview, while Moore describes the Securities and Exchange Commission’s 1990 investigation into insider-trading allegations of then-citizen George W. Bush. Then a Harken Energy Corp. board member, Bush had sold some $848,000 of his shares two months before the company announced major losses. Moore, as the film’s narrator, says, “The James Baker partner who helped Bush beat the rap from the SEC was a man by the name of Robert Jordan, who, when George W. became president, was appointed ambassador to Saudi Arabia.” Bush always has denied any wrongdoing in the matter. While showing the outside of a downtown Washington, D.C., hotel, Moore describes Baker’s attendance at an annual investors conference on the morning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America. The Carlyle Group, an investment banking firm, held the conference. Baker — secretary of state during the administration of President George H.W. Bush — was and still is a senior counselor to Carlyle as well as to several Saudi investors, including relatives of Osama bin Laden who had invested with Carlyle. “Carlyle Group was holding its annual investor conference on the morning of Sept. 11 in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Washington, D.C.,” Moore says in the movie. “At that meeting were all of the Carlyle regulars, James Baker, likely [former British Prime Minister] John Major, definitely George H.W. Bush, though he left the morning of Sept. 11. And Shafiq bin Laden, who is Osama bin Laden’s half-brother, was in town to look after his family’s investments in the Carlyle Group. All of them, together in one room, watching as the uh [sic] the planes hit the towers.” Moore describes how the bin Laden family members eventually pulled their interests from the Carlyle Group but notes that Baker stayed on as an adviser to Carlyle. A news clip of former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer then appears, with Fleischer giving a long-winded answer to a reporter’s question about possible conflicts between administration officials’ business interests and policymaking because of Baker’s and former President Bush’s ties to Carlyle and Halliburton Co., both of which stood to benefit from an aggressive U.S. military stance in the Middle East. As an R.E.M. song plays in the background with the lyrics “shiny, happy people holding hands,” Baker is shown walking arm and arm with a man in traditional Arab dress as Moore alleges that the Saudis have invested $1.4 billion in the businesses of Bush, his family and his friends (that figure has been questioned in Newsweek and other publications). In the next scene, Moore shows a public beheading in Saudi Arabia and notes the ruling government’s status as an Amnesty International violator of human rights. (In a July 14 press release, the Saudi government denied the allegations of human rights violations.) Baker appears on screen again as Moore describes a suit filed by Sept. 11 victims and surviving family members against members of the Saudi royal family and others. Who did the Saudis hire for help? Moore asks. His answer: “The law firm of James A. Baker.” The suit is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Not Embarrassed Given the movie’s references to Baker Botts, one might expect the firm to have launched a full-blown defense of its relationship with the Saudi royals, the oil industry and President Bush. But overall, the firm instead has adopted a Moore-is-not-our-problem approach to the film and its popularity. Smith has not yet seen Moore’s movie — he says he probably will get around to it — and therefore doesn’t intend to address its allegations point by point. The film mentions that a Baker Botts partner is defending members of the Saudi royal family in a suit filed by Sept. 11 victims. William Jeffress Jr., a Baker Botts partner in the firm’s D.C. office, confirms he represents Saudi Arabia’s defense minister and third ranking official, Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, and his brother, the governor of Riyadh, Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, in suits filed by survivors and family members of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. But, Jeffress says, the Saudis hired him not because of any relationship with former Secretary Baker — as Moore’s film implies — but rather as a direct result of contacts he made as a partner in Washington, D.C.’s now defunct Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin. Miller, Cassidy merged with Baker Botts in 2001. “I’m not giving it 10 minutes of thought,” says Jeffress about the Moore film. Smith says, “Our focus is on our clients and our business and not the media. To my knowledge, none of our clients have expressed any concerns about the movie. They know it’s a presidential election year. A lot of things get written.” Generally, Smith says, he does not expect to be in any way embarrassed about his firm’s ties to oil industry clients, the Saudis or the Bush administration. Rather, he says, he’s ready to boast about his law partners with ties to the Bush administration. “We are very proud of James Baker and Bob Jordan,” Smith says. In a subsequent e-mail, Smith notes that when Baker accepted a position this year as special envoy for the president and went to Iraq’s lenders to try to negotiate debt-reducing agreements — a detail the movie skips over — Baker and the firm took steps to ensure no conflicts existed between his duties for the nation and his financial interests as a Baker Botts partner. Smith notes specifically that Baker declined any compensation from the government for his work as the president’s personal envoy. In addition, Smith writes, Baker renounced his partnership share of fees on client matters that might constitute a conflict with his official duties as special envoy. For his part, Baker, who declined to be interviewed for this article, is listed on the Carlyle Group’s Web site as a senior counselor, a post he has held since 1993. Former Ambassador Jordan, the only other Baker Botts partner besides Baker mentioned by name in Moore’s film, did not return a telephone call seeking comment. Jordan has confirmed that he did represent Bush during the 1990 SEC investigation of the Harken Energy stock trades and he stepped down earlier this year as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The Upside Filmmaker Moore is not the first one to hone in on Baker Botts’ connections to the Bush administration and the Saudis. Before the release of Moore’s film, a cottage industry had developed around the theories tying the administration, through Baker Botts and James Baker III, to the Saudis and the oil industry. Several recently published books have covered similar terrain. Craig Unger authored “House of Bush, House of Saud,” a book published in March that focuses on the Bush family’s ties to the Arab rulers and the alleged conflicts that presented before and after Sept. 11. In May, Robert Bryce’s “Cronies: Oil, the Bushes and the Rise of Texas, America’s Superstate,” which argues that Texas politicians — from former President Lyndon Baines Johnson to both Bushes — and a small group of businessmen and lawyers have transformed the financial strength of the oil industry to control national politics to achieve their own personal gains. Unger and Bryce say Moore’s representatives sought pre-publication copies of their books during the making of the film. And Unger appears on screen as an expert in the movie. Baker Botts did not engage in a debate with any of those authors. Bryce says the firm’s partners declined his multiple requests to talk. Frustrated, he says he eventually shelled out $750 and donned a tuxedo so he could attend a gala where he “ambushed” Baker. Unger, too, didn’t talk to the firm. “I did not expect them to be terribly cooperative and they weren’t,” the author says. But three outside law firm marketing consultants say Baker Botts potentially could reap benefits from all the attention, although that undoubtedly was not Moore, Bryce or Unger’s intent. The consultants say that the as-long-as-they-spell-the-names-right principle applies in spades to Baker Botts’ situation. “People who were going to believe that kind of stuff weren’t going to hire Baker Botts anyway,” says David Margulies, founder of the Margulies Communications Group. “That firm deals with sophisticated clients who are not going to be hyped,” Margulies says. Deborah McMurray, founder of Deborah McMurray Associates in Irving, Texas, agrees. “Michael Moore mentioning Baker Botts isn’t really a crisis. There has always been an intersection of law firms and politics. Now, as politics become more entertainment-oriented, it’s going to offer lawyers more chances to be put in the spotlight,” she says. Rob Allyn, founder of Allyn & Co. in Dallas, who specializes in political and law firm marketing, sees only an upside for the Houston firm. “There is no question,” he says, “this is a great thing for the firm. If I were them, I’d sure want to be thrown in that briar patch. It has distinct advantages. The fact is they are being shown as loyal friends of the president.” Notes Allyn, “Corporate executives are going to be knowledgeable about that and not misled by Moore’s conspiracy theories.” But one of Baker Botts’ clients, Halliburton, has taken aggressive steps to counter the negative publicity its ties to the administration have generated. The company, which also has been criticized by congressional Democrats for high contracting costs charged by its subsidiaries that provide supplies in Iraq, launched a television advertising campaign this spring, which discusses the positive contribution its efforts are having among the troops in Iraq. In “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Moore even runs a clip of that advertisement. Cathy Gist, a spokeswoman for Halliburton, writes in an e-mail responding to questions about the ad campaign, “[W]e are clearing up the record. Just as the ad you reference says, we want people to understand that we get our business based on the skills and abilities of our employees to deliver quality services to those who need them. We are very good at what we do, and we have done it for 60 years for both Republican and Democratic administrations.” Consultants Allyn and Margulies say it’s not a surprise that Halliburton would react so much more aggressively than Baker Botts. Halliburton is targeting a different audience — including investors and consumers. In contrast, Baker Botts has to make sure that its image hasn’t changed with its clients, who, the consultants say, are probably not the crowd Moore is targeting. Notes Allyn, “Halliburton is not in a like situation. They’ve got stockholders. Baker Botts is a professional services corporation. They just have clients.” Miriam Rozen is a reporter with Texas Lawyer , a Recorder affiliate based in Dallas.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.