MANHATTAN (CN) – A former partner at Cooley LLP, Laura Grossfield Birger was tapped Wednesday to lead the criminal division of the Southern District of New York.
Though U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman touted Birger’s credentials as a former prosecutor in a statement announcing the appointment, a closer look at Birger’s white-collar background shows an interesting parallel to the ongoing investigation by special prosecutor Robert Mueller into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Just last year, during a more than 10-year tenure at Cooley, Birger represented Dutch attorney Alex Van Der Zwaan, who pleaded guilty to lying about his interaction with Trump’s former campaign aide Rick Gates.
California-based Cooley meanwhile has a direct tie to Trump. Back in 2013, Cooley partner Scott Balber represented Trump in his lawsuit against comedian Bill Maher, who jokingly offered $5 million for proof that Trump is not the “spawn of his mother having sex with an orangutan.”
Maher made the offer on “The Tonight Show” to spoof Trump’s conspiracy theory demanding Barack Obama produce a long-form birth certificate proving he was born in the United States.
Suing for breach of contract, not defamation, Trump dropped the lawsuit two months later.
Though Balber signed the complaint, it was Michael Cohen who told the Hollywood Reporter that the lawsuit would be amended and refiled. It never was.
Balber since moved on to the law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, where he represents two other prominent figures in the Russia investigation: Aras and Emin Agalarov.
An Azeri-born oligarch and ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, Aras Agalarov hosted Trump’s 2012 Miss Universe pageant, and his pop-singer son Emin helped arrange the meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort in Trump Tower on June 9, 2016.
The Democratic National Committee named both Agalarovs as defendants in their ongoing racketeering suit.
The Manhattan-based Southern District has loomed large in the Mueller investigation. Its jurisdiction covers the Trump Organization, Trump Foundation and several Trump properties, and it is the same district where ex-Trump attorney Cohen received a three-year prison sentence late last year.
A Trump appointee himself, Berman recused himself from Cohen’s case for undisclosed reasons. He praised Birger’s background in Wednesday’s statement.
“Laura was an outstanding AUSA during her prior tour in the Office and is an accomplished criminal defense lawyer,” Berman said.