8/21/2005

A Legal Counterattack - MSNBC.com

Saudis hire some of the toniest U.S. law firms to defend them against the landmark $1 trillion lawsuit on behalf of the victims of 9-11. So why is the plaintiff’s counsel ecstatic? Plus, new heat on radical imam

the 9-11 lawsuit as a useful tool to turn up the public heat on the Saudis. In that sense, there is a growing view among U.S. counterterrorism officials that it might be a good thing for the case to proceed—no matter how embarrassing it might prove to the Saudis.

To keep that from happening, sources close to the case say, members of the Saudi royal family and the country’s wealthiest businessmen—many of whom are defendants in the case—have offered up seven-figure retainers to some of the toniest and most politically connected law firms in the country.

Baker Botts, Sultan’s law firm, for example, still boasts former secretary of State James Baker as one of its senior partners. Its recent alumni include Robert Jordan, the former personal lawyer for President Bush who is now U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

An internal list of other law firms retained in the case, reviewed by NEWSWEEK , reads like a veritable “who’s who” of the U.S. legal community. Among those firms and their Saudi clients are: Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering (Prince Mohammed al Faisal); Kellog, Huber, Hansen, Todd & Evans (Prince Turki al Faisal); Jones, Day (the Binladin Group); Ropes & Grey (Khaled bin Mahfouz); White & Case,(the Al-Rajhi Banking Group); King & Spalding (the Arab Bank and Youssef Nada); Akin Gump (Mohammed Hussein Al-Almoudi); and Fulbright & Jaworski (Nimir Petroleum.)

But legal sources say some high-priced firms and their senior partners have been wary of the Saudi overtures—despite offers of retainers that, in some cases, have ranged as high as $5 million. One former Clinton administration official at a big law firm said he was personally approached to represent a high-ranking Saudi prince in the case but turned it down. “I kept asking myself, ‘do I want to be representing the Saudis against the 9-11 families—especially after all the trouble we had getting cooperation from the Saudis on terrorism’,” the official said. “I finally just said no.”

A Legal Counterattack - Newsweek National News - MSNBC.com

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