Stefan Passantino has taken a leave of absence from law firm Michael Best & Friedrich following an allegation that he advised a Trump White House staffer to mislead the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack at the US Capitol.
Passantino, who was once the top ethics lawyer in the Trump White House, later advised White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson as she prepared to go before the committee. CNN reported that committee members believe Passantino urged Hutchinson to mislead the panel. Hutchinson switched lawyers before testifying publicly in a June committee hearing.
Passantino’s bio has been scrubbed from Michael Best’s website. He’s on leave “given the distraction of this matter,” he said Wednesday in a email. Passantino said he was not acting on behalf of Michael Best in his work for Hutchinson and pushed back against the allegation that he advised her to mislead lawmakers.
Michael Best did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“I represented Ms. Hutchinson honorably, ethically, and fully consistent with her sole interests as she communicated them to me,” Passantino said. “I believed Ms. Hutchinson was being truthful and cooperative with the committee throughout the several interview sessions in which I represented her.”
Hutchinson later replaced Passantino with lawyers from Alston & Bird, including former Trump Justice Department official Joseph “Jody” Hunt.
Passantino in 2018 joined Michael Best, where he was a partner and led the firm’s political law group.
He said Wednesday he will continue as a partner at Elections LLC, a firm he launched in 2019 with another Trump administration alum to advise the former president’s 2020 campaign and other Republican candidates.
Elections LLC has earned roughly $2 million from Trump-affiliated political action committees this year, according to federal disclosures, including a $1 million payment in May from the Make America Great Again PAC.
The Jan. 6 panel on Monday released a summary of its key findings, including that it received evidence that “certain counsel (some paid by groups connected to the former president)...may have advised clients to provide false or misleading testimony.”
The committee didn’t specifically identify those lawyers in the report. It said a witness testified that a lawyer advised the person to claim not to recall certain facts of which the person was aware and to avoid disclosing information on a particular issue that would cast Trump in a bad light.
“External communications made on Ms. Hutchinson’s behalf while I was her counsel were made with her express authorization,” Passantino said in the email. “Unfortunately, the committee never reached out to me to get the facts.”
Passantino added that it is “not uncommon for a third-party, including a political committee, to cover a client’s fees at the client’s request.”
Passantino is a longtime Republican elections lawyer who served as counsel for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). He was an active player in Georgia Republican politics while a partner at Atlanta-based Mckenna Long & Aldridge, which later became part of the global law firm Dentons.
Passantino’s corporate clients have included Delta Airlines and Huawei Technologies, according to an ethics disclosure filed when he joined the White House in 2017. He has also advised partisan organizations like the Texas Conservative Fund and a PAC chaired by Gingrich.
He left his White House role after about 20 months, but remained a Trump ally. Passantino has appeared in court on behalf of the Trump Organization, co-chaired a “Lawyers For Trump” coalition, and —through Elections LLC—performed work for various Trump entities.
Elections LLC also has employed Justin Clark, a former Trump White House attorney who joined Michael Best after leaving the administration. Clark had previously been on a leave of absence from the firm. His firm website bio has also been scrubbed.
Clark declined to comment when reached by phone Wednesday.
Elections LLC became the vehicle through which Matthew Morgan worked as general counsel for Trump’s 2020 campaign. Morgan, who previously served as deputy chief of staff to former Vice President Mike Pence, left Elections LLC following the 2020 election. He joined Barnes & Thornburg as a partner in Indianapolis.
During the 2022 election cycle, Elections LLC has received regular payments from a variety of Trump-affiliated PACs and GOP candidates. The firm received more than $200,000 from the campaign for Herschel Walker, the Trump-backed candidate who fell short in his Georgia Senate run, for “legal consulting,” according to Federal Election Commission filings.
The Trump Save America Joint Fundraising Committee in a Dec. 8 post-election filing reported two separate $10,000 payments to Elections LLC, in October and November.
Clark continued to represent Trump in a personal capacity after the 2020 campaign, including in the former president’s unsuccessful fight with the Jan. 6 committee over White House records. Clark listed Elections LLC as his firm in a notice of appearance in a DC court, according to court records.
Jan. 6 Committee
It is unclear whether Passantino advised other Jan. 6 committee witnesses through Elections LLC.
Hunt and Alston & Bird partner William Jordan counseled Hutchinson ahead of a June hearing in which she offered details about Trump’s actions and White House officials’ worries that a Jan. 6 event could turn violent.
Hunt, who served as assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Division for a two-year stretch ending in August 2020, defended Hutchinson in a June tweet.
“Ms. Hutchinson testified, under oath, and recounted what she was told,” he said. “Those with knowledge of the episode also should testify under oath.”
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