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William Barr Fills Front Office With Trump White House Lawyers

William Barr appears for his confirmation hearing. Credit: Diego M. Radzinschi / NLJ

U.S. Attorney General William Barr has assembled a front office team of former Trump White House lawyers in the two weeks since his confirmation to lead the Justice Department, according to sources familiar with the personnel moves.

Brian Rabbitt, a former White House lawyer and top aide at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, is serving as Barr’s chief of staff. Barr's deputy chief of staff, John Moran, left the White House counsel’s office in October for the Justice Department, where he had been serving as a top aide to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

White House lawyer Claire Murray is expected to join Barr’s staff as a counselor. Murray clerked from 2012 to 2013 for Justice Samuel Alito, following a clerkship with then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. At the White House, Murray worked on the team that shepherded Kavanaugh though his confirmation fight last year.

Barr has also hired Rachel Parker Bissex, who initially joined the Justice Department as chief of staff and counsel to former Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand. Brand stepped down last year as the third-in-charge at the Justice Department to become head of global corporate governance at Walmart Inc., but Bissex stayed on as an aide to acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio. Bissex is serving as the White House liaison, a role housed in the Justice Department's front office.

Rabbitt, a former associate at Williams & Connolly, worked with Moran and Murray in the White House counsel’s office through the first year of the Trump presidency. A former clerk for Judge Thomas Hardiman on the Third Circuit, Rabbitt left the White House in late 2017 for roles at the Securities and Exchange Commission, where he started as a senior counsel to the agency’s co-directors of enforcement before becoming a top aide to Chairman Jay Clayton.

Barr’s staff also includes top aides who had been serving his immediate predecessors, Jeff Sessions and Matthew Whitaker, the former acting attorney general. Those aides include Gene Hamilton and Brian Morrissey, who joined the Justice Department as counselors to Sessions, along with Will Levi, a former special assistant in Trump’s White House who started at the department last year under Whitaker’s leadership. A former Alito clerk, Levi previously served as chief counsel for U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and later as an associate at Sidley Austin.

“Attorney General Barr is assembling a great team of lawyers’ lawyers—top-notch attorneys with sterling credentials and diverse legal experience,” Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokesperson, said Friday.

Moran and Murray were both formerly partners at Kirkland & Ellis, where Barr was of counsel in the firm's Washington office before his nomination to succeed Sessions at the helm of the Justice Department.

Their hiring further highlights the prominence of Kirkland & Ellis at Main Justice. Jeffrey Rosen, the Trump administration's pick to succeed Rosenstein, was formerly a Kirkland partner. Rosen currently is serving as second-in-charge at the Transportation Department.

Jeffrey A. Rosen, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, speaking during a panel discussion. Credit: Diego M. Radzinschi / ALM

Several other ex-Kirkland lawyers hold key posts at Main Justice and elsewhere in the Trump administration. In July, former Kirkland & Ellis attorney Brian Benczkowski was confirmed to lead the Justice Department’s criminal division. Beth Williams leads the Justice Department's office of legislative affairs. And Jeffrey Clark's in charge of the environment and natural resources division.

Another former top Kirkland partner, Robert Khuzami, is now a leading prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, where he has overseen the case against former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. Khuzami had previously served as a director of enforcement at the SEC and general counsel for Deutsche Bank.


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