Scandals in Washington have their own narrative. First the stuff hits the fan. Then the key players get all lawyered up.
Soon after the news of former CIA director David H. Petraeus’s resignation, the cadre of high-powered lawyers and spin doctors who shine in the wake of illicit affairs took over. The well-connected men and women have become stand-ins for their clients, who are avoiding media stakeouts in front of their homes.
The frenzy reached a pinnacle (or nadir) Tuesday as Los Angeles celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred held a news conference at the Ritz-Carlton for Natalie Khawam, Jill Kelley’s twin sister.
For those who have not been keeping up with the soap-operatic dimensions of the Petraeus resignation, Khawam’s sister is the woman who received the allegedly threatening e-mails from Paula Broadwell, who wrote a biography of Petraeus and had an affair with him. Kelley went to the FBI after receiving the e-mails. The bureau’s investigation uncovered the affair between Petraeus and Broadwell, a revelation that eventually led to the general’s resignation as CIA director. And Kelley and Khawam are family friends of Petraeus and his wife, Holly.
Khawam is only tangentially connected to the story, but her presser drew a couple of dozen reporters, cameramen and photographers. With Allred at her side, Khawam tearfully read a prepared statement. “I look forward to the day when I am able to answer everyone’s questions and explain what really happened in this matter,” she concluded before refusing to take a single question.
It was a classic Washington scandal news conference — all show and little news. Including Allred, there are a half-dozen lawyers and image-makers involved in this story. Here’s the cast of characters holding the puppet strings for Petraeus, Broadwell, Kelley and the others:
Robert Barnett , a lawyer with Williams & Connolly, is representing Petraeus as he exits government. Barnett, whose hourly rate is reportedly $975, is a well-known signifier of Washington power and go-to guy for politicians writing books or making career moves. He has negotiated book deals for everyone from President Obama to Republican strategist Karl Rove to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. As The Washington Post’s David Montgomery reported, Barnett also has assisted ex-Cabinet members, former senators looking for jobs and a long list of top officials moving into the private or nonprofit worlds: James A. Baker III, Dan Quayle, Lawrence H. Summers, Donna E. Shalala, Madeleine K. Albright, Trent Lott, John D. Ashcroft, Andrew H. Card Jr., etc. Look for Barnett’s guiding hand in Petraeus’s next moves.
Dee Dee Myers, a managing director of the communications firm Glover Park Group, will serve as Broadwell’s spokeswoman. Myers is the former press secretary for President Bill Clinton and the first woman to serve in that position. She was the model for the famous press secretary character C.J. Cregg in the television hit “The West Wing.” You can’t get more Washington than that. And Myers is the author of the bestselling book “Why Women Should Rule the World.” This could be a perfect fit for Broadwell, a West Point graduate who is said to be an ambitious woman with hopes of reviving her career in the wake of the extramarital affair.
“We’re just helping her manage the huge volume of media attention,” Myers said in a phone interview. “We’re just making sure her side of the story is accurately communicated.”
Myers’s firm was brought in by Broadwell’s attorneys, and Myers will be fact-checking and trying to spin the media’s Broadwell reports along with Glover Park Group’s Joel Johnson, who was Clinton’s senior adviser for policy and communications.
Robert F. Muse of Stein, Mitchell, Muse & Cipollone has represented his fair share of Washington figures under fire. Add Paula Broadwell, who returned home to Charlotte on Sunday, to that list. Muse served as staff attorney for the Senate Watergate Committee and has been counsel to both Democratic and Republican senators. Muse represented Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) when he resigned from the Senate in 1995 under threat of expulsion amid reports that he had sexually harassed female staffers. Muse also has served as counsel to lawyers in the Justice Department in various investigations and has handled numerous criminal cases involving classified information.
In a Monica Lewinsky link, Muse’s law partner Jacob Stein represented the intern during the Clinton impeachment saga. Muse will be working the case with Joshua Levy, also a partner at the firm. Levy has developed an expertise in representing corporations and individuals during congressional committee inquiries and investigations.
Judy Smith, the crisis manager who is the inspiration for the ABC drama aptly named “Scandal,” is playing a role fit for the television series. Smith is repping Jill Kelley, the Tampa socialite who befriended the Petraeus family. Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, sent her up to 30,000 pages of e-mails, some of which were reportedly of an inappropriate nature. After Kelley began receiving the anonymous e-mails from Paula Broadwell, which have been described as threatening, Kelley went to the FBI.
Smith’s roots in Washington are deep. She came to notice representing Monica Lewinsky in the Clinton impeachment scandal. It was Smith who hid Lewinsky from the media (on some days by having her volunteer at a church’s homeless outreach program). And it was Smith who fielded reporters’ questions on Lewinsky’s behalf as the story roiled on.
On the legal front, Jill Kelley has hired Abbe D. Lowell, who was lead counsel to former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.) in his recent trial. Lowell successfully defended Edwards against allegations that he had used campaign funds to cover up his relationship and child with Rielle Hunter. Lowell heads the white-collar and special litigation practice at Chadbourne & Parke and has argued that the Justice Department “spent more than three years and millions of dollars to invent a criminal theory of campaign-law violations to pursue someone who was basically trying to hide an extramarital affair.” Lowell also represented former senator John Ensign (R-Nev.), who resigned last year amid investigations into a sex scandal, and former congressman Gary A. Condit (D-Calif.), who came under heavy media scrutiny amid investigations into the death of Capitol Hill intern Chandra Levy when it was revealed that he had had an extramarital affair with her. Let’s just say sex scandals are nothing new to Lowell.
Gloria Allred fashions herself a “feminist attorney,” and before being enlisted to represent Natalie Khawam, she said she thought the women who have been caught up in the web of this scandal were being treated unfairly in the media. Allred, who is as much a spokeswoman as an attorney for her clients, loves the spotlight. She has been in the news in recent years for her pro-bono representation of a woman who accused Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain of sexual harassment, and last month unsuccessfully argued that a judge should lift a confidentiality agreement that prevented the ex-wife of the founder of Staples from talking about her divorce and Mitt Romney’s business dealings with the office-supply chain store.
At the Tuesday afternoon news conference with Khawam, Allred said she couldn’t speak for others wrapped up in this incident, but she seemed to channel them. “It is just a very difficult thing to wake up and find out that this is what’s happening in your life,” Allred said shortly before ending the presser. “Everything that is said has an impact on her life.”