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Big Day for Big Law With Justice Department Moves

July 13, 2018, 11:06 AM

It’s been a busy week for Big Law in Washington.

Aside from Covington & Burling partner Jon Kyl taking on “Sherpa” duties for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, two others are passing through the public service/private practice revolving door at the Justice Department.

The Senate confirmed Kirkland & Ellis partner Brian A. Benczkowski to head the criminal division and the DOJ’s top antitrust enforcement prosecutor, Lisa Phelan, has left to join Morrison & Foerster’s global antitrust practice.

Democrats cried foul over Benczkowski’s nomination on two points even though he’s already held senior Justice Department jobs before President Donald Trump selected him for the criminal division lead more than a year ago.

They noted that he’s never tried a criminal case, and expressed reservations over his work for Alfa Bank, which is said to have close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At Kirkland, he conducted a review of the bank and found no evidence it had any substantive contact with the Trump Organization.

As assistant attorney general for the criminal division, Benczkowski will help oversee special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Benczkowski is also a former staff director for the Senate Judiciary Committee and worked for Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he was a senator.

Democratic lawmakers had urged his nomination be withdrawn, but Sessions called Benczkowski “an outstanding lawyer with diverse public service and criminal law background spanning over 20 years.”

Phelan served for more than 16 years as a federal prosecutor and trial counsel where she prosecuted more than 300 criminal cases and oversaw dozens of jury trials.

Her brief included international and national criminal cartel cases involving the airline, shipping, pharmaceutical, and auto parts industries.

Such cartel cases are becoming of increasing interest to multinational companies, said Jeff Jaeckel, co-chair of MoFo’s global antitrust practice.

“In the last decade, cartel enforcement has grown from a small piece of antitrust enforcement in the U.S. into one of the pillars of international competition enforcement,” said Jaeckel. “Lisa has a wealth of experience in this area, and we are delighted to be able to provide her expertise to our clients around the globe.”

Morrison & Foerster has hired several former senior government officials in the past year, including former Assistant Attorney General John Carlin and Bob Litt, a former general counsel for the Director of National Intelligence.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Casey Sullivan at