Kirkland & Ellis offices in Washington, D.C. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL. (Diego M. Radzinschi)
William Barr, a former U.S. attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, has returned to Kirkland & Ellis as of counsel in Washington, D.C. The news was not announced by Kirkland, but by Caterpillar Inc., which recently hired Barr and the firm to advise it in an investigation.
Crain’s Chicago Business reported Thursday that Barr and Kirkland had been retained to represent the Peoria, Illinois-based company in the aftermath of a raid by federal law enforcement officials on three of its offices in the state earlier this month.
Barr initially joined Kirkland as of counsel in January 2009 after retiring from his role as an executive vice president and general counsel at Verizon Communications Inc., a position he held for eight years after the company was formed in 2000 following regulatory approval of the $52.9 billion merger between GTE Corp. and Bell Atlantic Corp. When Barr served as Verizon’s legal chief, Kirkland was often a key adviser on complex telecommunications matters.
But Barr (pictured right) left Kirkland after six months, right around the time he was named to the board of directors at Time Warner Inc., which had just dissolved its disastrous union with AOL Inc. Barr’s biography page on Time Warner’s website states that he worked at Kirkland from January 2009 to July of that year. (He was previously a partner at a predecessor firm of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman from 1984 to 1989 and 1993 to 1994, having worked in the first Bush administration in the intervening years.)
New York-based Time Warner, one of the world’s largest media conglomerates, is currently in the process of being sold to AT&T Inc. in an $85.4 billion cash-and-stock deal announced late last year. European regulators blessed the merger this week, but Time Warner’s proposed purchase by the nation’s second-largest wireless carrier awaits the approval of U.S. regulatory bodies. On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump spoke out against the transaction.
A Kirkland spokesman confirmed Friday that Barr had re-joined the firm, but did not give a date for his return. Barr is not listed on Kirkland’s website and his registries with The District of Columbia Bar and the New York State Bar Association are blank. A Friday morning phone call to Kirkland’s office in Washington, D.C., was routed to a voicemail for him. Barr, an avid bagpipe player, did not return a St. Patrick’s Day request to discuss his return to Kirkland by the time of this story.
At Kirkland, Barr will reportedly be part of a team advising Caterpillar, the world’s largest manufacturer of construction, farming and mining equipment, in a reported criminal probe that could be related to a $2 billion tax bill allegedly owed by its Swiss subsidiary Caterpillar SARL.
Investigators from the IRS’ criminal investigation division, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security’s office of enforcement and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s Office of the Inspector General were among those participating in the search of two Caterpillar offices in Peoria and one in nearby Morton, Illinois, according to a statement by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of Illinois.
James Buda, Caterpillar’s longtime in-house legal chief, recently retired as executive vice president of law and public policy at the company. An email to Buda inquiring as to the company’s decision to hire Barr and Kirkland—a firm that has previously been adverse to the company in some matters—bounced back Friday, although a phone call to his office and follow-up email were routed to management.
Caterpillar’s new CEO D. James Umpleby III, who apologized to employees earlier this month about the government’s raids, praised Barr in a statement to Crain’s as being a lawyer with an “impeccable track record” and known for “his integrity and direct, honest advice.”
“I have asked Bill—who has no prior connection with Caterpillar—to draw on his experience and that of his colleagues at Kirkland & Ellis and other advisers, to take a fresh look at Caterpillar’s disputes with the government, get all the facts and then help us bring these matters to proper resolution based on the merits,” Umpleby said.
Umpleby became Caterpillar’s CEO on Jan. 1 after the retirement of predecessor Douglas Oberhelman, who held the company’s top job for just four years. Caterpillar is in the process of moving its global headquarters closer to Chicago, where Kirkland is also based.