Bloomberg Law
Nov. 14, 2018, 4:57 PMUpdated: Nov. 14, 2018, 9:54 PM

Wachtell’s Conway Leading Conservative Group Critical of Trump (1)

Sam Skolnik
Sam Skolnik

A who’s who of Big Law heavyweights, led by Wachtell’s George Conway, have formed Checks and Balances, a group of conservative lawyers taking aim at what they deem to be assaults on the rule of law by President Donald Trump.

Checks and Balances lists fourteen attorneys as signatories to its mission statement, which declares, “We believe in the rule of law, the power of truth, the independence of the criminal justice system, the imperative of individual rights, and the necessity of civil discourse. We believe these principles apply regardless of the party or persons in power.”

Checks and Balances was announced Nov. 14, one day before the start of the 2018 National Lawyers Convention of the Federalist Society, a longstanding conservative legal group that’s come under attack for failing to criticize Trump’s stances and actions on immigration and other issues.

Conway is the husband of top presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway. He has regularly tweeted criticisms of Trump’s actions and rhetoric, and more recently co-authored op-eds in the New York Times and Washington Post on similar topics, with Neal Katyal, former principal deputy solicitor general in the Obama administration.

Other members of Checks and Balances from Big Law include Paul McNulty, of counsel with Baker McKenzie and former U.S. deputy attorney general; John Bellinger III, a partner with Arnold & Porter and former legal adviser to the U.S. State Department; Marisa Maleck, a senior associate with King & Spalding; Stuart Gerson, former acting U.S. attorney general and a member of Epstein Becker & Green; and Peter Keisler, another former acting U.S. attorney general, who signed on alongside fellow Sidley Austin partner Alan Charles Raul.

Rule of Law

Two of Checks and Balances’ founding lawyers said they were reluctant to discuss whether their firms’ leaders, or their clients, may have had any concerns about them affiliating with a group that could be seen as anti-Trump.

In fact, the group’s mission statement alludes to the potential appearance issues that could arise for law firms, which typically try to avoid being seen as partisan or overtly political.

“Each of us speaks and acts solely in our individual capacities, and our views should not be attributed to any organization we may be affiliated with,” the statement reads.

Gerson, who served in the Justice Department under both Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, said his reason for joining the group was clear: Trump’s rhetoric is worrisome.

“It’s antithetical to the rule of law to go after people for their political affiliations,” he said, referring in part to Trump’s calls to have Hillary Clinton “locked up.”

Gerson said conservatism is “getting a bad name” at a time when the ideology is “truly needed.”

The list of founding group members doesn’t just include several former top DOJ officials, but also those well-known in conservative legal circles. Keisler, for example, is a co-founder of the Federalist Society.

Another notable member is Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania and a secretary of Homeland Security under former President George W. Bush.

(Updated to include comments from Stuart Gerson and other slight revisions)

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Skolnik in Washington at