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Time To Lawyer Up and Turn State’s Evidence: The Dean Rule

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Lots of sleepless nights last night for lots of people within the IRS -and the EPA, the HHS, DOJ and of course the Departments of State and CIA. (Yes, the EPA.  See my chat with Senator Vitter from earlier this week.  Yes the HHS, see my chat with Senator Portman yesterday.)

When the president tried –too late and to little– to toss a sacrifice to the gods of the media who have turned on him by firing the short-term IRS Commish, he telegraphed to everyone who thought they had been helping him that in fact he will toss you under the bus when your time comes.

Which means: Time To Lawyer Up and Turns State’s Evidence. The hunt is on.

It is probably too late for the four IRS employees in Cincinnati who will be this summer’s equivalent of the four Cubans who broke into the Watergate.  We will figure out their McCord and their Liddy, and the inexorable march up the chain of command will unfold with a steady beat.  A John Dean —“a bottom-dwelling slug” Joe Alsop called him— will emerge, and will show again the key truth of all D.C. scandals: If you are going down, flip first.

Many of you who are caught up in the email scandal of EPA, or the Obamacare fundraising scandal at HHS, or the scandals we don’t know about yet but which this atmosphere coaxes to the top, will end up quite nicely with a book deal and a consulting gig…if you get the optics right.  The press loves a story bearer, so be that guy or gal.

Since moving to D.C. in 1983 and then back to California in 1989, I have on a few occasions to arrange for lawyers or a friendly press contact for folks caught in the scandal grinder.  Both Democrats and Republicans, both low level and high.  If you lawyer within the feds for any period of time, and then practice in the city or with its far flung agencies, you get to know how the system works.  My first job, on the D.C. Circuit as a clerk for two federal judges in 1983-1984, involved in part staffing the then-existing three judge panel on the appointment of Independent Counsels.

The good news is that there are a lot of fine lawyers to defend you in these circumstances.  The bad news is they are expensive.  The worst news is that the old law providing for reimbursement for the investigated-but-not-indicted is gone.  You will have to bear your own costs.

The good news: Jump in early enough and you get a lower cost arrangement.  Wait too long and all the good ones are gone and the rates go up.

So, here are my rules for “Lawyering Up”:

1.  Don’t talk about it with your co-workers.  Period. Ever.  They must not know you are seeking counsel and/or a friendly media helper.  Just go about your business saying “It has got nothing to do with me,” even when everyone knows it has everything to do with you.

2.  Do not destroy evidence or take things home.  If you have something at home, don’t destroy.  Wait until you have a lawyer to give it to.

3.  Don’t hire your hometown yellow pages guy or the fellow whose ad you saw on a billboard. This isn’t what those lawyers do. If they try and do it, they will embarrass you and themselves. See “William H. Ginsburg,” the man who gave rise to the term “the full Ginsburg.”

4.  If you have a pal in D.C. who is a lawyer, call him or her.  If a family friend has a nephew who works at a D.C. firm, call him or her.  Rule of thumb: The bigger the firm the better.  If you have a family member who is a lawyer, call him or her.  If you have a friend at church, call him or her.  Start by saying “I need to talk to a lawyer and I want you for the purposes of this call to be my lawyer.  Is that ok, I can give you a dime.”  If you get a yes, go and see them –do not discuss over the phone, especially a cell phone– and do so pronto.  Events usually move far faster than you think they will.

5.  Don’t tape record anyone or “borrow” anyone’s documents.  If you have a story to tell and you are innocent of any wrongdoing –really and truly innocent and don’t forget 18 U.S.C. 1001, The False Statements Act— then tell it to a reporter whom you can trust.  Send him or her an email and offer to talk.  send it a few times as in boxes get spammed and get full.  If they call back, don’t be coy.  If you are innocent but have a real story, they will protect you like gold, but lots of nuts call and email, and the sifting process is quick and hard.  The best defense against getting caught up in a big net is to make sure the net goes to the right place, which requires pointing fingers, which brings me to the last point.

6. Even if you are involved in wrongdoing within any of the agencies under the microscope that is wholly unrelated to the current headlines, understand the march towards you has begun.  Even if your agency hasn’t yet made the news, understand the march towards you has begun. Get on the side of the angels or the press ASAP, because the bell is tolling.

Coming out of a scandal hurricane with a life and something left in your bank account and not with a new address in federal prison is going to be very difficult for lots of people.  The Beltway gorges on these feasts of wrongdoing and there hasn’t been one since Bill Clinton strayed. Don’t be the main course.  Don’t even be an appetizer.  Be a servant standing behind a chair.  Lawyer up and find a friend in the media.  Today.


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