SACRAMENTO—California’s Assembly on Thursday ended its contract with Covington & Burling for guidance on fighting Trump administration policies—even as the state Senate pledged to continue working with the firm.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, said lawmakers had received “valuable guidance” since leaders first signed the $25,000-a-month legal services agreement in January. He offered no explanation for dropping the Covington team led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr.
“We will continue to seek their guidance as the need arises,” Rendon said.
Dan Reeves, chief of staff to Senate leader Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, said in an email that Covington’s counsel had been “very valuable … in responding to the Trump administration’s sustained attack on California’s policies and values.”
“We currently have a number of ongoing projects with Covington and plan to continue that valuable relationship,” Reeves said. He did not respond to questions about what those projects are and who would pay for firm’s work going forward.
A spokesman for Covington & Burling did not return a message on Thursday.
State Democrats, with large majorities in both houses, touted the contract in early January as the first step in building a firewall against any attack by President Donald Trump’s on California’s immigration, environment and health care policies. The state was on the verge then of losing its attorney general, Kamala Harris, who was elected to the U.S. Senate, and both Rendon and de Leon said California needed legal assistance on federal issues.
State Republicans derided the hiring of the Covington team, arguing that Democrats should rely instead on career attorneys in the Attorney General’s Office and in the Legislature.
Since February, Covington’s services—capped at 40 hours a month—have not produced much visible work. Holder briefly appeared with legislative leaders in Sacramento on Feb. 7 for meetings and a photo opportunity. In April, the firm sent a letter on behalf of the Legislature to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, challenging their allegations that the state is hampering enforcement of federal immigration laws.
On Thursday, Assembly Republicans posted a snarky tweet of a blank list of Covington accomplishments, suggesting California taxpayers haven’t gotten their money’s worth.
“This was an unjustifiable contract of dubious legality,” said Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Roseville. “The responsible parties should refund California taxpayers the $100,000 they paid for it.”
Kiley has asked Attorney General Xavier Becerra for a legal opinion on whether the Legislature had the authority to hire Covington. An aide to the assemblyman said Thursday he has not received a response.
Senior legislative staff disputed Republican accusations that the Covington contract had not been fruitful. The firm’s lawyers offered guidance on understanding and responding to Trump’s executive orders, including laws affecting so-called sanctuary cities, as well as the president’s moves targeting climate change, federal energy policy and the Affordable Care Act.
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