On Tuesday night, the Washington Post reported that after months of secrecy they uncovered the funding source for “The Steele Dossier,” an opposition research file which made alleged connections to President Donald Trump to Russia was finally uncovered. According to the report, it was paid for by the Democratic National Comittee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. The work was done by the research firm Fusion GPS, at the best of the law firm Perkins Coie.
It could be a bombshell story which blows up much of the established media narrative surrounding Russian interference in the 2016 election. It also included some familiar names to Wisconsin.
Marc Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS, a Washington, D.C., firm, to conduct the research. Fusion GPS hired dossier author Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer with ties to the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community.
Elias and his law firm, Seattle-based Perkins Coie, retained the firm in April 2016 on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Before that agreement, Fusion GPS’ research into Trump was funded by a still unknown Republican client during the GOP primary.
The Clinton campaign and the DNC, through the law firm, continued to fund Fusion GPS’ research through the end of October 2016, days before Election Day.
Fusion GPS gave Steele’s reports and other research documents to Elias, the people familiar with the matter said. It is unclear how or how much of that information was shared with the campaign and DNC, and who in those organizations was aware of the roles of Fusion GPS and Steele.
The dossier has become a lightning rod amid the investigations into the Trump campaign’s possible connections to Russia.
Two New York Times reporters were quick to point out via Twitter that Marc Elias had personally lied to them for over a year about any connections to the dossier over a year.
— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) October 24, 2017
Folks involved in funding this lied about it, and with sanctimony, for a year https://t.co/vXKRV1wRJc
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) October 24, 2017
If the name “Marc Elias” sounds familiar to you, don’t be too surprised. He is a well-known Democratic legal fixer who will often swoop in to shut down investigations or misdirect media inquiries. He was last dispatched to Wisconsin personally to aid Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison) when her office was under intense media pressure in the early days of the Tomah VA Medical Center scandal.
Elias and his firm quickly went on the offense to defend Wisconsin’s junior senator from further political harm. In addition to their public relations assistance to silence the media, it also commissioned a report which placed the entire blame of the Tomah VA on Baldwin’s former deputy state director Marquette Baylor.
Or at least her nationally renowned Democratic attorney has issued a statement defending the move last month to oust Marquette Baylor, ex-deputy state director for Baldwin and chief of her Milwaukee office.
“Marquette Baylor was terminated because her long-term performance on a range of issues did not meet with the senator’s expectations for effective constituent service,” said Marc Elias, former general counsel for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and a partner at the Perkins Coie law firm in Washington, D.C.
“As deputy state director for constituent services,” Elias continued in a written statement to No Quarter, “her handling of the problems at the Tomah VA was only one of those issues.”
Elias — the go-to guy for Democrats in political trouble — said Wednesday night that he had been hired by Baldwin and was being paid out of her campaign fund.
Throughout the years, Baldwin’s campaign has paid over $140,000 for legal fees to Perkins Coie. This past April, the campaign dispatched the law firm once again. The firm sent out cease and desist letters to radio stations over a series of radio ads targeting her paid for by a super PAC with ties Republican Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson.
Already, the Nicholson campaign was quick to pounce on Elias’ connection to the dossier news and his time as Senator Baldwin’s legal fixer.
This time last year, a Democratic law firm persuaded a handful of Wisconsin TV stations to take down an ad targeting their Senate candidate over the Tomah VA scandal, resulting in a convoluted back-and-forth between the campaign and the political group.
One year later, the story is repeating itself — this time with a different Senate candidate and a different PAC. And the Tomah ads are on the radio, not on TV.
Lawyers with the Perkins Coie firm representing Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s campaign sent letters to radio stations on Thursday urging them to stop airing an ad sponsored by the conservative Iowa-based Americas PAC. At least one station had removed the ad as of Friday afternoon.
The ad accuses Baldwin of being slow to react to a whistleblower’s reports of excessive opioid prescriptions at the Tomah VA hospital.
As for the law firm itself, Perkins Coie has been rather busy in Wisconsin politics in recent years. The law firm has been the go-to representation for liberal activists wanting to challenge nearly every change to the state’s election law passed since 2011.
They also have two of their partners running for statewide office 2018.
First there’s Josh Kaul, who so far is the only Democrat announced to be running for state attorney general.
Josh Kaul, an attorney who successfully challenged Wisconsin voting laws and the son of former attorney general Peg Lautenschlager, announced on Monday his plans to challenge Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel for the job.
Kaul, 36, is an attorney with Perkins Coie in Madison, where he focuses on voting rights and election law. Perkins Coie represents the Democratic National Committee and its candidates, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Then there is Tim Burns, who is running for an open Wisconsin State Supreme Court.
Contending courts have become a tool of special interests, Madison lawyer Tim Burns announced Monday he is running for state Supreme Court.
Burns, of the firm Perkins Coie, is seeking the seat held by conservative Justice Michael Gableman in the spring 2018 election. Gableman, who has not said if he will run for re-election, declined to comment Monday.
While both attorneys are free to run for whatever public office they choose, the sudden influence of one law firm seeking two statewide offices with oversight on Wisconsin’s legal climate cannot go unnoticed. Especially when that same law firm and one of its senior-most partners is at the epic center of a massive political maelstrom.