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Law.Com: Hacked Hunton & Williams Envisions 'Huge Gains' Targeting Wikileaks

February 17, 2011- Hunton & Williams stood to be the channel for $2 million in monthly subcontractor payments as part of a plan to discredit anti-corporate critics, according to e-mails that are drawing intense scrutiny of the law firm.

The firm hoped to build a lucrative practice around investigating critics such as U.S. Chamber Watch and WikiLeaks, and it worked with three private security companies in a partnership they called "Team Themis," the e-mails say. Lawyers saw "potential for huge gains" as a result of liberal anger, one security employee wrote in an e-mail.

The e-mails -- which are publicly available online -- have been burning up liberal blogs since they were posted in recent days. Hackers who collectively call themselves "Anonymous" say the more than 71,000 e-mails are internal discussions involving the private security companies and, in hundreds of the e-mails, Hunton & Williams.

A review of the e-mails suggests how profitable Hunton & Williams thought the business could be. Partners at the firm wanted to do work for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Bank of America and at least one other entity.

An employee of one subcontractor, Palantir Technologies, visited Hunton & Williams'office in Washington on Nov. 30 and, according to an e-mail he wrote the next day, came away optimistic about the business opportunity.

"They still think that this team (H&W, Themis) has potential for huge gains in this market especially since 'the results of the election made some people angry,'" wrote the employee, Matthew Steckman. He added, "god I love these guys."

Several messages describe a proposal in which the law firm, at the suggestion of partners John Woods and Richard Wyatt Jr., would pay $2 million a month for six months to the three subcontractors. It' not clear what the firm' income was to have been.

"According to John while 2mill was more than they expected it was not 'Dead on Arrival' and Richard is looking to push that number to the Chamber," Steckman wrote Dec. 1, in apparent references to Woods and Wyatt. He added that once the team completed a "Phase I," then they will brief the Chamber on the results "to get them to pony up the cash for Phase II."

The deal never happened, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The organization said in a statement that it knew nothing of the proposals and never made any payments for them. "No money, for any purpose, was paid to any of those three private security firms by the Chamber, or by anyone on behalf of the Chamber, including Hunton and Williams," it said.

Some of the proposals developed by Team Themis were unusual. One idea, according to the liberal Think Progress blog, was to leak a forged document to a critic, who would then be shown to be untrustworthy.

Eleanor Kerlow, a spokeswoman for the Richmond, Va.-based Hunton & Williams, said the firm and its lawyers have no comment on the e-mails. The Chamber is a longtime client of the law firm; the late Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell Jr. once advised the Chamber as a Hunton & Williams partner.

Woods, a partner in Hunton & Williams' Washington office who specializes in internal investigations, was at the center of the firm's Chamber-related project, the e-mails say. One security company employee, Patrick Ryan of Berico Technologies, read Woods' online profile and then e-mailed a colleague, "Sounds like he has a very solid background in the type of work we'll be doing."

In a Nov. 8 e-mail to colleagues, Ryan described a conversation he had with Woods about the internal dynamics at Hunton & Williams. Wyatt, he wrote, "is very excited about potential, but knows he may end up covering initial upfront costs, so needs to be comfortable with what end-product will look like." Ryan writes that Wyatt cancelled a scheduled trip in order to "deep dive into this proposal."

The team of subcontractors and Hunton & Williams lawyers held several in-person or phone meetings during October and November, allowing the lawyers to give feedback on the work thus far, the e-mails say. In a Nov. 29 e-mail, Berico employee Sam Kremin writes that Hunton & Williams requested what Kremin called "mock intel reports."



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