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Greenberg Traurig Recruits GOP Veteran Sam Skinner

Less than three months after ousting superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, the law firm Greenberg Traurig is taking its first steps to rebuild its Washington office and continue its meteoric rise up the list of top lobbying firms in Washington.

The firm announced late last week that it has hired Samuel Skinner, a prominent Republican and former White House chief of staff who the firm hopes will bring some gravitas in the wake of a Senate investigation into allegations that Abramoff charged American Indian tribes exorbitant lobbying fees.

A former U.S. attorney, Skinner served as chief of staff to former President George H.W. Bush as well as Transportation secretary in his administration.

Greenberg Traurig officials say that Skinner is the first of several new lobbyists the firm plans to hire in the coming weeks.

The firm hopes that Skinner and the other new hires will help fill the hole left by Abramoff and a handful of lobbyists who left the firm in the wake of the investigation.

But Greenberg Traurig officials are framing the hire carefully, saying that Skinner was not hired to replace Abramoff — in fact, they say, talks to hire Skinner began before Abramoff left Greenberg Traurig.

Abramoff’s departure “has not changed at all” the firm’s plans in Washington, said Fred Baggett, chairman of the firm’s government-affairs practice.

“Our intention for quite a while has been to continue to grow our government relations practice to make it the No. 1 practice in Washington,” Baggett said. “Our practice really has not been interrupted by any departures.”

Before luring Abramoff from rival lobbying firm Preston Gates three years ago, Greenberg Traurig had a modest lobbying presence in Washington.

But aided by Abramoff’s conservative Republican credentials and his knack for signing pricey lobbying contracts, Greenberg Traurig increased its lobbying revenues more than sixfold — from $3.8 million in 2000 to $25.5 million last year, according to federal lobbying disclosure forms.

A Roll Call survey of lobbying revenues in 2003 ranked Greenberg Traurig fourth among Washington firms.

However, Abramoff was personally responsible for nearly half of the firm’s lobbying revenues.

Several of Greenberg Traurig’s clients have followed Abramoff to his new firm, Cassidy & Associates, including the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana, United Rentals and Wal-Mart.

In addition, another three profitable American Indian tribes — the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana and Sandia Pueblo — have severed their contracts with Greenberg Traurig.

Together, those firms paid Greenberg Traurig more than $3 million in 2003.

Abramoff’s exit also was followed by a half-dozen other departures, including Todd Boulanger, Jim Hirni and Shana Telser, who joined him at Cassidy & Associates.

With the hire of Skinner — who has strong Republican credentials and a long record in business and government — Greenberg Traurig lobbyists believe they have begun to turn things around after hitting rock bottom.

Though he lives in Chicago, Skinner plans to spend time in the Washington office helping the firm’s current clients as well as recruiting a few more.

“Hopefully, we will be able to work with existing clients and client development as well,” he said.

After leaving the Bush administration, Skinner became president of the utility company Commonwealth Edison.

But he has not lost touch with Washington. Skinner also serves as chairman of the Institute for Legal Reform, the lobbying and political entity created by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to cut down on frivolous lawsuits.

“In these days of corporate governance disputes and leadership failures, we are privileged to have someone who has been on the front lines as both a leader and a lawyer available to our clients,” said Keith Shapiro, a top official in Greenberg Traurig’s Chicago office.

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