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On a warm fall evening in 2004, not long after he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois, Barack Obama attended an intimate Washington dinner party. Seated next to him was Covington & Burling’s Eric Holder Jr. ? a high-profile litigation partner and former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. The two men chatted about politics, the Justice Department, the law, and “just kind of hit it off,” Holder says. Obama had been doing the D.C. dinner party and fund-raising circuit for some time during his Senate run. Months earlier, he was at Vernon Jordan Jr.’s home, and there he met and wowed Gregory Craig, a star at Williams & Connolly and a former Clinton appointee. As Jordan puts it, Craig has “been in love with [Obama] ever since.” Even Jordan, who remains an enthusiastic backer of Sen. Hillary Clinton and is still one of the most famous friends of former President Bill Clinton, has helped out Obama ? contributing $2,300, or half what he’s given Hillary Clinton in her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Obama’s charm offensive in his early days in D.C. has helped him crack a demographic that at one time seemed destined for total domination by Hillary Clinton: elite Washington lawyers ? including many who served in Bill Clinton’s administration. Holder is Obama’s national campaign co-chairman. Craig, who was an assistant to the president and special counsel in the Clinton White House, is a foreign policy adviser. Bryan Cave’s Broderick Johnson, Clinton’s liaison to the House of Representatives, is an informal political adviser. “The reality is that I served in that first Clinton administration, and I owe them a great deal,” Holder says. “But at the end of the day, what was critical for me was what’s most important for my country and my party. And I really thought that Barack would be a superior president.” HOLDER HISTORY For Holder, that 2004 dinner party got him started on the realization that old loyalties would have to take a back seat during the 2008 presidential race. Bill Clinton nominated Holder, then in his early 40s, to become the first African-American U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia in 1993 ? a position he held for nearly four years. In 1997, Holder became the No. 2 at Justice, when Clinton appointed him deputy attorney general. He was also the first African-American to hold that position. For Obama, Holder has worked on wooing superdelegates, as well as advising the senator on policy issues and speeches, including the one he gave at Howard University in September. Even at work in Covington’s Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest office, Holder has Obama on the brain. He says about 20 lawyers in the office keep up-to-date with campaign events on an e-mail chain. Williams & Connolly’s Craig has an even longer history with the Clintons, whom he first met in 1971 when all three attended Yale Law School together. In 1998, President Clinton turned to him to lead the defense team fighting his impeachment.

It’s only fitting, then, that Craig met Obama through Clinton’s friend and former adviser Jordan, now senior counsel at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Craig was invited to a fund-raiser that Jordan hosted at his home in 2003 during Obama’s run for the Senate. From there, Craig says of Obama, “I became convinced that he had the ability to bring people together, and to end the partisan bickering in a way that no one else did.” Craig, who says he hasn’t seen or talked to the Clintons since the presidential campaign began, has helped Obama prepare for debates by offering foreign policy advice and has helped negotiate terms and format issues with debate sponsors. He’s a member of Obama’s national finance committee and has acted as a surrogate addressing foreign policy questions from the media and the public during the primaries in New Hampshire, Texas, and Ohio. The Obama camp’s No. 1 lawyer is its lead outside counsel, Robert Bauer, of Perkins Coie’s D.C. office. He served as counsel to Democrats in the House during the 1999 impeachment trial and is also counsel to the Democratic Senatorial and Congressional Campaign committees. Bauer didn’t respond to requests for comment. AT THE WOOLY MAMMOTH Dozens of other top D.C. lawyers have organized fund-raisers, contributed their own cash, and sacrificed billable hours for the campaign. As the Obama campaign recovers from last week’s losses in the Texas and Ohio primaries, lawyers here say they will redouble their efforts to support him. Lawyers and staff from DC 20 firms have given Clinton and Obama nearly $1.5 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The score is about even, with $785,000 to Clinton and $697,000 to Obama. For Clinton, the top givers have been lawyers and staff at Patton Boggs ($94,000), at Hogan & Hartson ($92,000), and at Steptoe & Johnson ($77,000). For Obama, the biggest donors have been lawyers and staff at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr ($119,000), at Williams & Connolly ($88,000), and at Hogan & Hartson ($62,000). Nationally, Obama’s take from lawyers and law firms has topped $11 million ? just on the heels of the $13 million Hillary Clinton has collected from the bar, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Last May, just a few months after Obama announced his candidacy for president, a group of D.C. lawyers ? dominated by a contingent from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr ? organized a “lawyers breakfast reception” for the senator at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Co. in Northwest D.C. At a minimum of $1,000 a pop, about 300 people showed up to hear the senator speak. Although Wilmer senior counsel Louis Cohen introduced Obama at that event, it was the first time Cohen met the senator. He told the audience that his support for Obama came largely from his and his wife’s feeling “that this was the face we thought America should turn to the world.” Later, the Obama campaign asked Cohen and his wife to join its national finance committee. Lawyers from Skadden, Hogan & Hartson, Jenner & Block, Mayer Brown, Latham & Watkins, and Winston & Strawn also served as event chairs and hosts of that event. Norman Eisen, a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder in Washington, has known Obama since they met about 20 years ago at Harvard Law School. Like Obama, he worked as a community organizer before getting his law degree. Eisen says there was “a sense” among his group of Harvard friends that Obama was planning to run. As soon as that “sense” became reality, he called the campaign and volunteered to help raise money. He now serves on both the national finance committee and the campaign’s education policy group. “A number of the lawyers who help on the campaign have a joke,” Eisen says. “We work 75 percent of our time on our jobs, and 75 percent of our time on the campaign.” Perhaps Obama’s 1988 summer associate stint at Sidley Austin explains why lawyers and staff there have donated more than $250,000 to his campaign, with $51,000 of that total coming from Sidley lawyers and staff in the D.C. metro area. Though not formally affiliated with the Obama campaign, Washington Sidley partner Kathryn Thomson is active in the grass-roots effort. She helped organize the first Obama fund-raiser in the District last February at a private Northwest home. Thomson’s husband, Chris Lu, is Obama’s legislative director in the Senate. And yet another kind of grass-roots movement has developed among attorneys who represent Guant�namo Bay detainees. The Habeas Lawyers for Obama, as they call themselves, have signed a letter endorsing the senator because of his support for restoring the right of habeas corpus to their clients. Thomas Wilner is a partner in Shearman & Sterling’s D.C. office and a co-author of the letter. Putting Obama in the White House will show the world that “the presidency isn’t restricted to rich WASPs who went to Yale,” says Wilner ? a Yale alum himself.


Marisa McQuilken can be contacted at [email protected].

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