Amazon.com Inc. has turned to lobbyists at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld to help its drone delivery program take flight. The online retailer hired Akin to engage in “advocacy with regard to testing and operation of [unmanned aerial vehicles] in the U.S.” for Amazon Prime Air, according to lobbying registration paperwork. Akin is the first outside firm to lobby for Prime Air, which Amazon chief executive officer Jeff Bezos unveiled in December. The lobbyists on the account include Akin partner Ed Pagano, senior policy adviser Michael Drobac and senior public policy specialist Melanie Goggins. Drobac, who was Netflix Inc.’s first in-house lobbyist, and Goggins previously lobbied for Amazon at Patton Boggs before they joined Akin this year. Amazon hopes to start drone delivery as soon as the regulations are final, according to the company’s website. With Prime Air, Amazon wants to deliver orders to customers in less than 30 minutes. “It looks like science fiction, but it’s real,” the company says on its website. — Andrew Ramonas
VOTING RIGHTS REVIEWED
Exactly one year after the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to the Voting Rights Act, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on ­proposed legislation aimed at reviving the law. The committee will gather on the morning of June 25 to consider the Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would update the so-called “preclearance” formula of the 1965 law that was struck down by the court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder.
“It is time for Congress to act,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in announcing the hearing. “Just as Congress came together 50 years ago to enact the Civil Rights Act, Democrats and Republicans should work together now to renew and strengthen the Voting Rights Act, which has always been ­bipartisan.”
Even though the proposed law has support from some Republicans, it has languished and is not given much chance of passage this year. Critics say that even a revised preclearance procedure would be an affront to states’ rights. — Tony Mauro
DOJ, ABRAMOFF LAWYER CLASH
Federal prosecutors want a judge in Washington to take a closer look at possible conflicts of interest concerning convicted ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s new lawyer — a move that the lawyer, Arent Fox partner Peter Zeidenberg, labeled as “frivolous” and “tactical abuse.”
Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor, began representing Abramoff earlier this year. Abramoff is paying millions of dollars in restitution after serving time in prison for conspiring to bribe public officials, tax evasion and fraud. Last month, he challenged the government’s seizure of nearly $450,000 in federal tax refunds owed to him without approval from the judge concerning how the money should be used.
During his time with the Justice Department, Zeidenberg prosecuted another individual charged in the Abramoff scandal, former General Services Administration chief of staff David Safavian. In court filings in May, Zeidenberg said there was no conflict because he wasn’t part of the team that prosecuted Abramoff. Prosecutors in Abramoff’s case thought otherwise. On June 13, the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington asked U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle to require Zeidenberg to explain why he shouldn’t be disqualified from the case. — Zoe Tillman
BLACKWATER TRIAL OPENS
Sept. 16, 2007, was a sunny day in Baghdad.
That’s one of the few facts that prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed upon as a trial opened last week against four former Blackwater Worldwide security guards charged with killing and injuring Iraqi civilians that day.
Prosecutors accused the guards of opening fire in Baghdad’s Nisour Square without provocation. “Shoot first, justify later,” was the running theme of Assistant U.S. Attorney T. Patrick Martin’s opening statement on June 17. But Brian Heberlig of Steptoe & Johnson LLP, lead counsel for one of the guards, told jurors the evidence would show the guards were defending themselves against incoming fire. “We could not disagree with the government more,” said Heberlig, who leads the firm’s white-collar criminal defense practice.
The shooting left 14 people dead and others injured. Three of the defendants face manslaughter and attempted manslaughter charges. The fourth defendant, Nicholas Slatten, faces a single count of first-degree murder. The jurors will have a lot of time to consider the evidence — the trial is expected to last several months. — Zoe Tillman
‘STRAW PURCHASE’ UPHELD
An individual buying a gun for another person — a “straw buyer” — must disclose the identity of the actual buyer during the sale, even if that person could have legally bought the firearm, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week. The high court, in a 5-4 decision, upheld the conviction of Bruce Abramski. He had been found guilty of making false statements after identifying himself as the actual buyer of a handgun, when in fact he was buying the gun for his uncle. Abramski, a former police officer in Virginia, was able to get a discount on the gun because of his law enforcement background.
“Federal gun law establishes an elaborate system of in-person identification and background checks to ensure that guns are kept out of the hands of felons and other prohibited purchasers,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote. “These provisions would mean little if a would-be gun buyer could evade them all simply by enlisting the aid of an intermediary to execute the paperwork on his behalf.” — Marcia Coyle
GE CAPITAL PAYS RECORD FINE
In the federal government’s largest credit card discrimination settlement in history, GE Capital Retail Bank, now known as Synchrony Bank, will pay $225 million to credit card customers harmed by deceptive marketing or discrimination.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the U.S. Department of Justice charged the bank with deceptively marketing credit card add-on products that provided debt cancellation in the event of certain hardships, and discriminating against Hispanic customers by refusing to extend special offers to people who lived in Puerto Rico or preferred to communicate in Spanish. “The blatant discrimination that occurred here is unlawful and will not be tolerated,” said Jocelyn Samuels, the acting head of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.
Synchrony, which until June 2 was known as GE Capital, said it self-identified the discriminatory practice and took corrective actions. “The bank regrets this error. Its priority is treating customers fairly and when issues are identified, it is committed to making it right,” a bank statement said. Covington & Burling partner D. Jean Veta represented GE. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment. — Jenna Greene
SUBPOENA SPAT SETTLED
A subpoena fight involving whistleblower boutique Phillips & Cohen ended last week with little fanfare. Two whistleblowers involved in the government’s $3 billion health care fraud deal with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline PLC were suing their former lawyers at Colorado law firm Cross & Bennett for malpractice.
The whistleblowers, for the second time since March 2013, subpoenaed Phillips & Cohen for information; the firm represented other whistleblowers with claims against GlaxoSmithKline. The firm had fought back, arguing the information at issue — testimony from a firm attorney about her recollections of Cross & Bennett’s handling of the case — was protected attorney work-product. Before the judge could rule, the parties notified the court on June 16 that the underlying case had settled. — Zoe Tillman