The Election Law Partner at the Center of the Russia Dossier Story

For all his prowess in election law, Perkins Coie’s Marc E. Elias is unlikely to relish being the focus of attention in one of the most salacious and mysterious sagas at the heart of the 2016 presidential election.

Elias, a firm partner and chair of its high-powered political law practice, found himself in the spotlight after it was reported that he hired the research firm that compiled a controversial, but unverified, dossier detailing explosive allegations about President Donald Trump’s connections to Russia and those between his campaign and Russian representatives.

According to the Washington Post, which broke the story Oct. 24 , Elias hired the research firm Fusion GPS while representing the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

The dossier, which was reportedly based on information from a former British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele, recounted titillating assertions of Trump’s behavior on a visit to Russia and, according to the Post, apparently wound up in Elias’s hands.

The dossier was published in full last year by BuzzFeed, but its origins had always been mysterious.

According to a letter released Oct. 24 by Perkins Coie’s general counsel Matthew J. Gehringer waiving client confidentiality that was obtained by Big Law Business from a person familiar with the matter, the firm hired Fusion, an intelligence gathering firm, in April 2016. But apparently, the dossier was already underway prior to that point. It is unclear who may have originally commissioned it.

[Pictured below, the letter released by Gehringer.] 

Perkins Letter

 

Elias, who graduated from Duke Law School and has a master’s in political science from the university, has regularly been in the election law spotlight.

While connected to Perkins Coie, an AmLaw 100 company, Elias has represented a stellar list of Democratic clients. Prior to serving as general counsel to the presidential campaign, Hillary for America, Elias served in the same role for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid.

In addition to the DNC, his clients have included the Democratic Senatorial Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Governors’ Association as well as U.S. senators, governors, representatives and their campaigns, according to the Perkins Coie website.

The 920-lawyer firm itself was in the news earlier this year after it investigated allegations of a culture of harassment at Uber. Its investigation resulted in 20 firings and led, in June, to the resignation of the ride-hailing service’s controversial founder, Travis Kalanick.

Elias, as a federal election law expert, appears more frequently in the limelight, particularly in stories about political law and voter protection issues. He has been active in litigating voting and campaign finance cases around the country and in voting rights and/or redistricting litigation in states like Florida and Texas as well as others.

Two notable clients are tech giants Facebook and Google who oppose congressional efforts to impose regulations on political advertisements that appear on their sites.

According to a New York Times report, long before the 2016 election and questions about undue Russian influence were raised, the technology companies requested exemptions from the Federal Election Commission to disclosure rules on grounds the ads at issue were too small to contain disclaimers that listed who was sponsoring them.

As the extent of Russian involvement in American elections has emerged more clearly in recent months, the tech companies have stepped up efforts to oppose additional regulation.

Elias did not return calls Oct. 25 seeking comment.

 

Contact the reporter responsible for this story: Elizabeth Olson at egolson1@gmail.com.

Contact the editors responsible for this story: Casey Sullivan at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com and Tom Taylor at ttaylor@bna.com.