Stefan Passantino. Photo: Zach Porter/ALM.

Stefan Passantino, the prominent Georgia Republican who led Dentons political law group before joining the Trump White House as deputy White House counsel last January, has joined Michael Best & Friedrich as a partner in Washington, D.C.

Passantino’s move follows former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus’ return to the Milwaukee-based firm as president and chief strategist last year. Priebus practiced at Michael Best before working for the Republican National Committee and rising to the position of chairman before the election. 

“The Reince Priebus connection made it something of a no-brainer for me,” Passantino said of his move to Michael Best.

Passantino said his connection to Priebus dates back years, including when he was outside general counsel to former House Speakers Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert in the 1990s, while Priebus worked at the RNC.

Passantino did not detail his reasons for leaving the White House, but said it was a “fairly intense environment” and that “it was time” for him to leave. 

Priebus said in a statement that Passantino’s addition will send a “statement to our industry and underscore our strategic vision in the Beltway and nationally.”

Passantino, who had responsibility for compliance and ethics oversight at the White House Counsel’s Office, will be part of Michael Best’s government relations, public policy and compliance group. Passantino led the political law group at McKenna Long & Aldridge before it merged with Dentons in 2015, and continued in the same role at Dentons. 

Now, Passantino will counsel corporations and businesses on matters involving campaign finance, public policy, and compliance counseling regarding regulations about political activity. He said Michael Best offered him a unique platform and the flexibility to expand on his previous work in private practice, leveraging Michael Best’s contacts that he said traditional K-Street firms—and Dentons—could not provide.

Gingrich left Dentons earlier this year and has yet to land at another law firm. Asked about whether Gingrich may follow him to Michael Best, Passantino declined to offer any specifics but said he “strongly anticipate[s]” that he would not be the last headline-making name to join Michael Best in D.C. 

“I talk to him all the time,” Passantino said of Gingrich. “Newt and Reince are very close.”

Passantino credited Gingrich with advancing his career in Washington, and he credited White House Counsel Don McGahn with helping him secure a job in Trump’s White House. Passantino said he considers McGahn a good friend and added that he does not know what McGahn plans to do after his expected departure this fall.

As for whom he expects may replace McGahn, Passantino proffered that he would feel “very comfortable” with Williams & Connolly’s Emmet Flood filling the position. Flood joined Trump’s legal team in May, and Passantino said he worked closely with Flood and has “a tremendous amount of respect” for Flood.

Despite the turnover at the White House, Passantino said he does not anticipate the counsel’s office to miss a beat. All Senate-confirmed cabinet officials had to go through Passantino’s team, which Passantino said remains in good hands with Scott Gast, a senior associate counsel in the White House Counsel’s Office who worked alongside Passantino from the Trump administration’s first days.

Although Passantino left the White House on Friday, he anticipates he will continue to hear from future nominees as part of his work in private practice. Several former clients predating his White House service already began reaching out to him on his first day, Wednesday, Passantino said.

He said he also expects to do more work on internal investigations for clients than he did before entering the White House. 

A native Atlantan, Passantino will primarily work out of the firm’s D.C. office, which is moving into a new riverfront office at The Wharf early next year. Michael Best’s Washington home will be 1000 Maine Ave. S.W. along the Potomac River, in the same building that Fish & Richardson moved into this year.