Democratic leaders in the California Legislature said Wednesday they have hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to advise them on a legal strategy as they gird for a fight against President-elect Donald Trump.
The precise role of the high-profile lawyer remained unclear, but his politically connected firm will be paid $25,000 a month plus expenses from the Legislature’s budget to help lawmakers develop strategies “regarding potential actions of the federal government that may be of concern to the state of California,” according to the contract with Holder.
The initial agreement runs for three months beginning Feb. 1. After that, the parties will renegotiate the deal, said Kevin Liao, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount.
Republicans in the Legislature blasted the decision to sidestep lawyers already on California’s payroll and hire Holder, who many conservatives view as a polarizing figure.
California Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders have talked tough since Trump’s election in November, vowing to aggressively confront the Republican president who pledged during the campaign to repeal “Obamacare” and deport immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.
“We have an obligation to defend the people who elected us and the policies and diversity that make California an example of what truly makes a nation great,” Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, said in a statement.
The hiring of outside consultants is not unusual, but the decision to contract with such a high-profile figure made it a remarkable move with clear political overtones.
As the nation’s top lawyer from 2009 to 2015, Holder aggressively defended President Barack Obama’s policies and took heat over “Fast and Furious,” a gun-smuggling investigation in which federal agents allowed weapons to be delivered to drug cartels in Mexico.
“The goal of the California Democrats is clear: an open border with no restrictions on human traffickers, gun runners and drug smugglers,” Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, said in a statement.
Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, called Holder’s hiring “a waste,” noting that the state Department of Justice has a staff of 4,300 people and an annual budget of $830 million.
The arrangement with Holder was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.
The contract with the firm Covington & Burling was signed by Daniel Shallman, a partner in Covington’s Los Angeles office and the brother of John Shallman, a political consultant who represents de Leon and other Democratic elected officials.
The California Department of Justice, headed by the state attorney general, typically represents the state in disputes with the federal government. Lawmakers are scheduled next week to begin confirmation proceedings for Xavier Becerra, a Democratic congressman whom Brown selected to succeed Kamala Harris as state attorney general.
Harris resigned this week after winning a seat in the U.S. Senate.
The Legislature wanted its own legal representative independent of the executive branch, Liao said.
“It’s to supplement the AG’s work, not replace it,” Liao said. “The attorney general is the chief law enforcement officer for California but doesn’t represent the Legislature itself.”
The legislative counsel’s office, which has hundreds of attorneys to advise the Legislature, can’t offer policy advice, Liao said.
Asked about the propriety of Holder’s new position, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he saw nothing inappropriate.
Darlene Superville in Washington contributed.