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E-mail began streaming into Susan Liss’ inbox only minutes after the highest court of Massachusetts ruled in favor of gay marriage on Feb. 4. “Just about the moment that the case came down, I received five e-mails,” Liss says. “When an issue comes up in any area involving the justice system, our job is to help the campaign shape its response.” The campaign in question is that of John Kerry, the Massachusetts senator and current Democratic presidential front-runner. A former Justice Department and White House official under Bill Clinton and now executive director of a foundation-funded project studying the medical malpractice crisis in Pennsylvania, Liss is one of dozens of D.C. lawyers volunteering policy advice to Kerry. She’s doing so as part of a group of lawyers that advises Kerry on judicial and legal policy issues. That group, headed by Nicholas Gess, of counsel at the D.C. office of Bingham McCutchen, is one of several clusters of well-connected lawyers and policy experts, many of them Clinton administration veterans, relied on by Kerry to brainstorm key issues. Other groups, larded with lawyers from the D.C. offices of such firms as Arnold & Porter; Latham & Watkins; Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo; and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, focus on issues like economics or foreign policy. All of them report to Sarah Bianchi, the campaign’s policy director and a former domestic policy adviser to former Vice President Al Gore. “There are lots of calls, lots of e-mails,” says Gess, an associate deputy attorney general under Bill Clinton and a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in Maine. “The idea is to give the senator the best advice we can.” In some ways, Gess’ group functions as a shadow Justice Department. Among the questions before it: How would a Kerry administration handle criminal sentencing? What kind of federal judges would it appoint? How would it strike the balance between civil liberties and national security? What stance would it take on gay marriage and civil unions? The group includes plenty of Washington insiders who helped run the DOJ the last time the Democrats were in power. And often, when a new president is making key appointments, he looks to people who have helped him in the campaign. Besides Liss, a former DOJ civil rights official and counsel to Gore, and Gess, who handled intergovernmental affairs for Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno, Kerry is also getting advice from Eleanor Acheson, who spearheaded judicial nominations for Clinton as assistant attorney general for policy development. Laurie Robinson, who doled out billions of government dollars annually as assistant attorney general for justice programs, is also on the Kerry team. Robinson, a nonlawyer, is now a D.C.-based senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s criminology program. Other members include Edward Correia, of counsel at Latham & Watkins and a former special counsel for civil rights in the Clinton White House, and Arnold & Porter partner Robert Weiner, who worked in the White House Counsel’s Office under Clinton. But many people who know Kerry say the D.C. lawyer closest to the candidate is not a Clinton veteran at all but a former Senate staffer. That’s Ivan Schlager, a partner at the D.C. office of Skadden Arps, who was a Democratic aide on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee for 10 years, eventually rising to chief counsel and staff director. “I’m one of those who was with Kerry before Iowa, and I’m doing as much as I can for the campaign,” says Schlager, “while still trying to keep my law practice going.” Lawyers who volunteer for a candidate receive permission from their firms and tell their clients about their political work, and several Kerry volunteers say they have not encountered any conflicts and don’t expect any to arise. Schlager, who heads Skadden’s public policy practice and whose clients have included America Online and US Airways, is working for Kerry on “trade, telecom, general economic issues — whatever people in the campaign think I can be useful for.” Schlager has also helped Kerry put together a group of lawyers to advise him on economic and regulatory issues. Among them are Schlager’s Skadden partners Lynn Coleman, a former general counsel of the Department of Energy, and Kenneth Berlin, a well-known environmental litigator. Also on the economic team is David Leiter, a vice president of ML Strategies, a D.C.-based consulting affiliate of Boston’s Mintz Levin. Leiter, who does not have a law degree, was Kerry’s chief of staff for six years and served as a deputy assistant secretary of energy in the Clinton administration. Mintz Levin has another key connection to the Kerry campaign: The senator’s younger brother, Cameron, is a Boston-based telecom partner at the firm. Cameron Kerry did not return a call for comment. Kerry’s broad national economic plan was written by three former Clinton administration officials — campaign policy director Bianchi, who did not return several requests for comment; Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council in the second Clinton term; and former Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman. “A lot of people chipped in, but it was Sarah, Roger, and me who really put it together,” says Sperling, now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Sperling is also giving policy advice to Kerry rivals Wesley Clark and John Edwards. Former Kerry Senate counsel Jonathan Winer, now a partner at the D.C. office of Alston & Bird, is one of the volunteer lawyers running foreign policy for Kerry. “National security and foreign policy are areas that I worked on for Kerry for more than a decade,” says Winer, who was deputy assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration and has an e-commerce and financial services practice. Another key foreign policy player is Daniel Feldman, a senior associate in the D.C. office of Boston’s Foley Hoag. Feldman served as director for multilateral and humanitarian affairs at the National Security Council in the Clinton administration. Feldman was deputy press secretary to Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., in the 2000 vice presidential campaign, but went with Kerry in 2004 rather than support Lieberman’s presidential candidacy, which ended last week. Feldman says he respects Lieberman but thinks Kerry’s foreign policy views more closely match his own. “I’ve put together for Kerry a small group of mostly younger foreign policy advisers, a sort of mini-NSC,” says Feldman, 36. Feldman says he helped pick the group by the expertise of its members to mirror the various directorates within the National Security Council, including experts on areas like the Middle East or Africa and on topics such as counter-terrorism or weapons of mass destruction. “We have a weekly conference call, write position papers, and do opposition research on the Bush administration,” says Feldman. Feldman’s “mini-NSC” may include a chief in waiting, since a third key member of the Kerry foreign policy team is Rand Beers, a Clinton official at both the State Department and the NSC. Beers also served in the current Bush administration as senior director for counter-terrorism but resigned in March 2003, just before the United States invaded Iraq. He works full time for the Kerry campaign. Beers left the NSC because he was concerned that the Iraq War would divert resources from the global battle against terrorism. He is regarded by many as a possible secretary of state or national security adviser in a Kerry administration. “In many ways, John Kerry is his own foreign policy adviser,” Beers says. “He has a well-formed understanding of the issues. We do provide what additional thoughts are necessary for him.” One well-known D.C. lawyer who has had a quiet role in the Kerry campaign is Jeffrey Liss, the husband of Justice policy adviser Susan Liss. Liss, chief operating officer of Piper Rudnick, says he has not given much advice himself, but has been something of a job referral service for the campaign. “Lately I’ve had a bunch of people, former Clinton administration types, approach me and say, ‘Can you plug me in?’ Liss says. “That happens all the time in D.C., and I’ve done that for them. But the pace of it has certainly picked up in the past several weeks.”

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