Clinton Aides Agree To Be Represented By The Same Lawyer In Answering Questions On Email Scandal

Hillary_Clinton_Testimony_to_House_Select_Committee_on_BenghaziThere is an interesting development in the Clinton email scandal. The investigation has entered a particularly dangerous stage for Clinton with a key aide receiving immunity and interviews scheduled for key associates. The danger is that statements given prosecutors can differ and contradict each other or, worse yet, contradict Clinton. Moreover, such statements could be unknown to Clinton when she speaks with investigators. For that reason, many are likely to view a recent announcement with considerable suspicion that the top four staff members to Clinton have agreed to be represented by the same attorney, Beth Wilkinson. That would allow a degree of coordination or at least confirmation of differing statements or accounts. Since Wilkinson is not allowed to represent multiple clients with conflicts, it would also create a situation where the statements must not conflict in significant ways between the clients and, if they do, she would likely have to remove herself — a move that would likely be known to the Clinton counsel and highlight a potential problem with a given associate. She will represent former Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, Deputy Chief Jake Sullivan, Mills’ deputy Heather Samuelson, and Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines.

Wilkinson is a top lawyer with close contacts at the Justice Department. She is a logical choice, particularly if you believe that the FBI may push for charges and the only fail-safe would be a refusal by the Justice Department to prosecute.

The joint representation is an extremely important development, which is likely to reassure Clinton’s personal counsel. It is however a curious choice for the individual clients in an investigation that covers a large number of emails and actions over a long period of time. They could have serious potential conflicts of interest in the mishandling of classified evidence or the circumvention of security protocols and rules. There is little reason why all four would prefer the same counsel unless they wanted to present a uniform account. Generally, it is clearly to a person’s advantage to have a single lawyer who is solely and exclusively pursuing your own interest. Moreover, there is little question that the Clinton campaign would prefer key witnesses to be represented jointly. The danger is a “prisoner’s dilemma” scenario where witnesses are unclear what other witnesses might be saying. The concern is that, even if Wilkinson does not share such statements between clients, she would be there to object or potentially steer clients away from conflicting or dangerous departures.

This is not to take away from Wilkinson who is a very accomplished lawyer who prosecuted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and former Panama dictator Manuel Noriega. She has the experience to foresee the types of dangers that lurk in such interviews, though she is not unique in that sense in this city with a wide array of such experienced counsel.

The most problematic in a joint representation is Sullivan who has repeatedly come up in reports on the circumvention of the secure State department email system and various classified email. Mills is also someone who I believe would be best served with individual counsel. Sullivan and Mills also represent two of the greatest potential threats to Clinton. Samuelson also has some potential liability as the alleged person who sorted through the emails to decide what to delete, including emails now deemed classified.

None of this is meant to suggest any unethical by Wilkinson who has a stellar reputation and can clearly represent all four absent a known conflict or potential conflict in interest. However, such joint defenses always raise concerns over coordinated accounts and shared information. That is likely to be an issue that will be raised by the investigators in the questioning of these witnesses and potential targets.

The DC rule allows for clients to sign an understanding or waiver reflecting realities and risks of multiple clients in the same matter. The rule is below. What is problematic in this case is that this is not a civil but a criminal matter where any conflict could result in both adverse and criminal penalties. It also creates a risk for the lawyer if there are allegations raised later regarding communications or steering between witnesses.


Rules of Professional Conduct: Rule 1.7–Conflict of Interest: General Rule

  (a) A lawyer shall not advance two or more adverse positions in the same matter.
(b) Except as permitted by paragraph (c) below, a lawyer shall not represent a client with respect to a matter if:
(1) That matter involves a specific party or parties and a position to be taken by that client in that matter is adverse to a position taken or to be taken by another client in the same matter even though that client is unrepresented or represented by a different lawyer;
(2) Such representation will be or is likely to be adversely affected by representation of another client;
(3) Representation of another client will be or is likely to be adversely affected by such representation;
(4) The lawyer’s professional judgment on behalf of the client will be or reasonably may be adversely affected by the lawyer’s responsibilities to or interests in a third party or the lawyer’s own financial, business, property, or personal interests.
(c) A lawyer may represent a client with respect to a matter in the circumstances described in paragraph (b) above if
(1) Each potentially affected client provides informed consent to such representation after full disclosure of the existence and nature of the possible conflict and the possible adverse consequences of such representation; and
(2) The lawyer reasonably believes that the lawyer will be able to provide competent and diligent representation to each affected client.
(d) If a conflict not reasonably foreseeable at the outset of representation arises under paragraph (b)(1) after the representation commences, and is not waived under paragraph (c), a lawyer need not withdraw from any representation unless the conflict also arises under paragraphs (b)(2), (b)(3), or (b)(4).Comment[1] Rule 1.7 is intended to provide clear notice of circumstances that may constitute a conflict of interest. Rule 1.7(a) sets out the limited circumstances in which representation of conflicting interests is absolutely prohibited even with the informed consent of all involved clients. Rule 1.7(b) sets out those circumstances in which representation is barred in the absence of informed client consent. For the definition of “informed consent,” see Rule 1.0(e). The difference between Rule 1.7(a) and Rule 1.7(b) is that in the former, the lawyer is representing multiple interests in the same matter, while in the latter, the lawyer is representing a single interest, but a client of the lawyer who is represented by different counsel has an interest adverse to that advanced by the lawyer. The application of Rules 1.7(a) and 1.7(b) to specific facts must also take into consideration the principles of imputed disqualification described in Rule 1.10. Rule 1.7(c) states the procedure that must be used to obtain the client’s informed consent if representation is to commence or continue in the circumstances described in Rule 1.7(b). Rule 1.7(d) governs withdrawal in cases arising under Rule 1.7(b)(1).

Representation Absolutely Prohibited – Rule 1.7(a)
[2] Institutional interests in preserving confidence in the adversary process and in the administration of justice preclude permitting a lawyer to represent adverse positions in the same matter. For that reason, paragraph (a) prohibits such conflicting representations, with or without client consent.
[3] The same lawyer (or law firm,seeRule 1.10) should not espouse adverse positions in the same matter during the course of any type of representation, whether such adverse positions are taken on behalf of clients or on behalf of the lawyer or an association of which the lawyer is a member. On the other hand, for purposes of Rule 1.7(a), an “adverse” position does not include inconsistent or alternative positions advanced by counsel on behalf of a single client. Rule 1.7(a) is intended to codify the result reached in D.C. Bar Legal Ethics Committee Opinion 204, including the conclusion that a rulemaking whose result will be applied retroactively in pending adjudications is the same matter as the adjudications, even though treated as separate proceedings by an agency. However, if the adverse positions to be taken relate to different matters, the absolute prohibition of paragraph (a) is inapplicable, even though paragraphs (b) and (c) may apply.
[4] The absolute prohibition of paragraph (a) applies only to situations in which a lawyer would be called upon to espouse adverse positions for different clients in the same matter. It is for this reason that paragraph (a) refers to adversity with respect to a “position taken or to be taken” in a matter rather than adversity with respect to the matter or the entire representation. This approach is intended to reduce the costs of litigation in other representations where parties have common, non-adverse interests on certain issues, but have adverse (or contingently or possibly adverse) positions with respect to other issues. If, for example, a lawyer would not be required to take adverse positions in providing joint representation of two clients in the liability phase of a case, it would be permissible to undertake such a limited representation. Then, after completion of the liability phase, and upon satisfying the requirements of paragraph (c) of this rule, and of any other applicable Rules, the lawyer could represent either one of those parties as to the damages phase of the case, even though the other, represented by separate counsel as to damages, might have an adverse position as to that phase of the case. Insofar as the absolute prohibition of paragraph (a) is concerned, a lawyer may represent two parties that may be adverse to each other as to some aspects of the case so long as the same lawyer does not represent both parties with respect to those positions. Such a representation comes within paragraph (b), rather than paragraph (a), and is therefore subject to the consent provisions of paragraph (c).
[5] The ability to represent two parties who have adverse interests as to portions of a case may be limited because the lawyer obtains confidences or secrets relating to a party while jointly representing both parties in one phase of the case. In some circumstances, such confidences or secrets might be useful, against the interests of the party to whom they relate, in a subsequent part of the case. Absent the informed consent of the party whose confidences or secrets are implicated, the subsequent adverse representation is governed by the “substantial relationship” test, which is set forth in Rule 1.9.
[6] The prohibition of paragraph (a) relates only to actual conflicts of positions, not to mere formalities. For example, a lawyer is not absolutely forbidden to provide joint or simultaneous representation if the clients’ positions are only nominally but not actually adverse. Joint representation is commonly provided to incorporators of a business, to parties to a contract, in formulating estate plans for family members, and in other circumstances where the clients might be nominally adverse in some respect but have retained a lawyer to accomplish a common purpose. If no actual conflict of positions exists with respect to a matter, the absolute prohibition of paragraph (a) does not come into play. Thus, in the limited circumstances set forth in Opinion 143 of the D.C. Bar Legal Ethics Committee, this prohibition would not preclude the representation of both parties in an uncontested divorce proceeding, there being no actual conflict of positions based on the facts presented in Opinion 143. For further discussion of common representation issues, including intermediation, see Comments [14]-[18].

Representation Conditionally Prohibited – Rule 1.7(b)
[7] Paragraphs (b) and (c) are based upon two principles: (1) that a client is entitled to wholehearted and zealous representation of its interests, and (2) that the client as well as the lawyer must have the opportunity to judge and be satisfied that such representation can be provided. Consistent with these principles, paragraph (b) provides a general description of the types of circumstances in which representation is improper in the absence of informed consent. The underlying premise is that disclosure and informed consent are required before assuming a representation if there is any reason to doubt the lawyer’s ability to provide wholehearted and zealous representation of a client or if a client might reasonably consider the representation of its interests to be adversely affected by the lawyer’s assumption of the other representation in question. Although the lawyer must be satisfied that the representation can be wholeheartedly and zealously undertaken, if an objective observer would have any reasonable doubt on that issue, the client has a right to disclosure of all relevant considerations and the opportunity to be the judge of its own interests.
[8] A client may, on occasion, adopt unreasonable positions with respect to having the lawyer who is representing that client also represent other parties. Such an unreasonable position may be based on an aversion to the other parties being represented by a lawyer, or on some philosophical or ideological ground having no foundation in the Rules regarding representation of conflicting interests. Whatever difficulties may be presented for the lawyer in such circumstances as a matter of client relations, the unreasonable positions taken by a client do not fall within the circumstances requiring notification and informed consent. Clients have broad discretion to terminate their representation by a lawyer and that discretion may generally be exercised on unreasonable as well as reasonable grounds.
[9] If the lawyer determines or can foresee that an issue with respect to the application of paragraph (b) exists, the only prudent course is for the lawyer to make disclosure, pursuant to paragraph (c), to each affected client and enable each to determine whether in its judgment the representation at issue is likely to affect its interests adversely.
[10] Paragraph (b) does not purport to state a uniform rule applicable to cases in which two clients may be adverse to each other in a matter in which neither is represented by the lawyer or in a situation in which two or more clients may be direct business competitors. The matter in which two clients are adverse may be so unrelated or insignificant as to have no possible effect upon a lawyer’s ability to represent both in other matters. The fact that two clients are business competitors, standing alone, is usually not a bar to simultaneous representation. Thus, in a matter involving a specific party or parties, paragraphs (b)(1) and (c) require notice and informed consent if the lawyer will take a position on behalf of one client adverse to another client even though the lawyer represents the latter client only on an unrelated position or in an unrelated matter. Paragraphs (b)(2), (3), (4) and (c) require disclosure and informed consent in any situation in which the lawyer’s representation of a client may be adversely affected by representation of another client or by any of the factors specified in paragraph (b)(4)

57 thoughts on “Clinton Aides Agree To Be Represented By The Same Lawyer In Answering Questions On Email Scandal”

  1. In other, actual news, I heard that the Supreme Court upheld the one-person-one-vote rule, as they are calling it. The regressives, in another last ditch attempt to hold onto power, was attempting to subvert voting and representation yet again (seems the only way they can win anything anymore), by changing the way districts are drawn, asking that only actual voters be counted in the drawing of districts. This of course, would mean that representatives would only represent voters, not all the people of their districts, so significant portions of society would be essentially unrepresented.
    Wisely, the court affirmed 8-0 the lower court ruling that everyone should be counted and represented.

    Such a shame to see the regressive party dying such an agonizing death. So sad.

  2. One’s pedigree–the inconsequential fact that she may be, by no effort of her own, the daughter of a Naval officer–doesn’t determine one’s ethics or one’s lack of said ethics. Ludicrous to equate an accident of birth with the degree to which one is considered ethical. How absurd. If her father had been Jesse James, would that translate into her being, automatically, a criminal and a notorious bank robber, as well, and, as such, incapable of acting in the capacity as an attorney? If not, then the mere mention of her father’s career is bizarre. Who cares who her father was or what she has accomplished in the past? Hillary also has an impressive resume. It doesn’t negate her bad acts, absolve her of crimes or color her, magically, with an abundance of morals or ethics. This attorney’s actions, with regard to her representing multiple individuals, in a matter, such as this one, stinks to high heaven. Intelligent people are capable of separating familial bloodlines and past achievements from the mix and are able to concentrate on the situation at hand.

  3. I don’t know this attorney but her bio says she’s the daughter of a Naval officer and she was an Army JAG prosecutor who later went to DOJ and prosecuted Timothy McVeigh. It seems her ethics are in the highest order. I’m sure if a conflict arises she will advise the client to get a different attorney. As it stands, I see this representation of all four Hillary aides as a way of evening the legal playing field between the DOJ and the citizens. The government always has the advantage of playing defendants against each other and lying about what each of them said and keeping their attorneys in the dark. As a former prosecutor she’s familiar with the game, and she’s not going to let it happen to her clients. I see nothing wrong with that.

    1. Tin – two of her clients have more risk than the other two. And if one of them crumbles (Drudgereports that Mills is nervous) it can all go to hell.

  4. It should be noted that Beth Wilkinson (the lawyer for Hillary’s aides) is married to David Gregory, the former host of Meet the Press and currently a CNN political analyst.

  5. Those emails are gone with the wind. If they subpoena Prissy then Hillary is in trouble.

  6. The actor who played Sgt Schultz was named John Banner. He was an Austrian in real life. He was 63 when he died in the year 1973. The defense of : I know nothing! : would be appropriate here. If I was typing some documents which were the text of an email, that would be one thing. Hillary typed her own emails. I do not know if she took typing in 8th grade but she has been seen on tv hand typing into her smart phone. So, these other people know nuthin. They also know nuthin bout birthin babies either.

  7. This lawyer represented Sgt Schultz in that prison of war camp back in WWII. He is still alive.

  8. Maybe all the persons represented by this lawyer will take the witness stand and say: “I know nothing!”

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