House Judiciary Committee ranking member Doug Collins, R-Georgia, speaking during a Department of Justice oversight hearing on Feb. 8, 2019. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel is publicly butting heads with the Trump Organization and congressional Republicans this week, with an alleged conflict of interest involving New York partner Barry Berke becoming a flash point as Congress probes the president and his businesses.

Earlier this month the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic majority retained Berke, a Kramer Levin partner and one of the country’s leading trial lawyers, as special oversight counsel to assist the committee, including in its investigation of the Trump Organization.

Barry Berke

Trump Organization attorney Alan Futerfas balked at the hire in a Feb. 22 letter to Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, that demanded an end to the investigation, citing Kramer Levin’s representation of the organization in the past, the Washington Post reported.

“This state of affairs violates recognized ethical obligations and irreparably taints the Committee’s work,” Futerfas wrote, according to Politico, adding it “requires that the Committee cease and desist from any and all activities that are adverse to the Company.”

Kramer Levin scrubbed portions of its website mentioning its work with Trump’s network of companies on Friday, the Trump Organization later said, and Kramer Levin has since acknowledged making changes to the site to “remove confusion” about its work.

Mention of Kramer Levin’s work for the Trump Organization was deleted from the profile page of Jay Neveloff, a Kramer Levin partner and chairman of the firm’s real estate team. Neveloff has not previously shied away from talking about his work with Trump, and he told The Wall Street Journal in 2017 that he was in Donald Trump’s office for hundreds of hours over the course of several decades leading to Trump becoming president of the United States.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Georgia, sent Kramer Levin a letter requesting more information about Berke’s work, his compensation, and the firm’s changes to its website.

“[T]he financial aspect of Mr. Berke’s relationship with both your firm and the Committee needs further examining,” Collins said in the letter, addressed to Kramer Levin managing partner Paul Pearlman. “[N]ot only will the Committee be providing a six-figure income to Mr. Berke, but the American people—whose taxes will be paying for Mr. Berke’s second salary—will be prevented from understanding the financial entanglements and possible financial conflicts of interest Mr. Berke brings to the table as a consultant to the Democrats.”

Kramer Levin said Wednesday it has received the letter and is reviewing it, but did not answer whether it intends to answer Collins, the committee’s top-ranking Republican.

Earlier in the week Kramer Levin pushed back against the Trump Organization, telling CNN, “For the past several years the firm’s work has involved only minor tasks for single-purpose companies, such as pro forma amendments to condominium offering plans that date back more than a decade or the clearing up of minor building violations for management companies.”

The Trump Organization has disputed the firm’s claims about the nature of its work, and said in a Monday evening statement to the Washington Post that it remains a client of Kramer Levin.

Kramer Levin managing director Jennifer Manton said in an email that no other steps beyond removing references to the Trump Organization on its website were necessary to eliminate confusion about the firm’s work.

Collins’ letter set a deadline of 5 p.m. on Friday for Kramer Levin to respond to the ranking Republican’s request for information. A Judiciary Committee aide to Collins said the committee is aware the firm has received the letter and is awaiting a response, but gave no clue as to any next steps the committee planned to take.

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