Investment fund, irked over Trump representation, fires Morgan Lewis

Trump-business-ties
President-elect Donald Trump speaks about his business ties during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017.

A prominent, left-leaning investment fund has fired the Center City law firm of Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP for its defense of President Trump’s refusal to fully disengage from his business empire.

H. Scott Wallace, cochair of the Wallace Global Fund, said in a March 28 letter to Morgan Lewis chair Jami Wintz McKeon that the firm’s representation of Trump “encourages impeachable offenses” and “is an unprecedented invitation to corruption and an assault on our democracy.”

The investment fund finances efforts to reduce the role of money in politics and reverse global warming, among other causes.  

The fund, which listed net assets of about $170 million in its latest available IRS filing, works to limit growth of what it calls the “corporatist state” and eschews investment in fossil fuel, gold mining, and private prison companies. Wallace is a graduate of Villanova University’s Charles Widger School of Law as is McKeon, who graduated three years after him.

“It is painfully obvious that Trump is using his office for personal gain,” Wallace wrote. “And Morgan Lewis is enabling and legitimizing this.”

Morgan Lewis declined to comment on Wallace’s statement.

Trump held a nationally televised news conference Jan. 12 to unveil his plan for heading off conflicts of interest between his duties as president and his vast entertainment, real estate, and hotel empire. After brief introductory remarks, he turned the presentation over to Morgan Lewis partner Sheri Dillon, who explained that Trump’s holdings would be placed in trust, that the companies would be run by his sons Donald Jr. and Eric, that an ethics officer would examine transactions with an eye toward avoiding conflicts, and that a chief compliance officer would have responsibility for ensuring that the companies adhere to ethics rules and laws.

The proposal immediately came under fire from government ethics experts who said it would be impossible for Trump to avoid conflicts so long as he had an ownership interest in the businesses and family members were running them. Some experts urged Trump to sell his assets or place them in a blind trust that would prevent Trump from having knowledge of activities concerning his companies. But Dillon argued both tactics were impractical. Selling the assets would hardly avoid ethical conflicts, she pointed out, since special interests could be accused of paying inflated prices.

Moreover, a blind trust likely wouldn’t shield Trump from obtaining information about his companies because they are subject to intense media exposure.

In his letter to McKeon, Wallace said the conflicts already were apparent with various foreign government interests around the world doing deals with the Trump empire or affording its businesses special consideration. One example Wallace gave is that of the Chinese government-owned Industrial & Commercial Bank, a tenant in Trump Tower in Manhattan, whose lease will come up for renewal during Trump’s first term. Wallace also noted that Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida is booming since the election and that Trump’s visit there with heads of state “is a marketing bonanza.”

Wallace is the grandson of former Vice President Henry Wallace, who served under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and who was a passionate advocate of New Deal liberalism. He broke with the Democratic Party and ran as the presidential candidate of the Progressive Party in 1948.

“I am committed to using the power and prestige of the United States to help the peoples of the world, not their exploiters and rulers,” Henry Wallace said in his acceptance speech in Philadelphia.

Morgan Lewis, with nearly 2,000 lawyers one of the world’s largest law firms, cultivates an image as a bipartisan firm with both Republicans and Democrats in senior positions. It has litigated a host of pro bono cases seeking to overturn death-penalty convictions, uphold immigrant rights, and advocate on behalf of same-sex marriage.

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