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Law firm that represented Nixon, BP during oil spill prepared university presidents for antisemitism testimony

WilmerHale prepared Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania leaders prior to a House hearing last week about disciplining students who called for the genocide of Jews.

A well-known international law firm that has been involved in several controversies throughout recent history reportedly helped prepare at least two university officials for their testimony on campus antisemitism to Congress last week.

WilmerHale, a prominent Washington D.C., law firm that was formed by a merger in 2004 between Washington-based Wilmer Cutler Pickering and Boston-based Hale and Dorr, prepared the leaders of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania prior to their testimony in the House last week over whether they would discipline students who called for the genocide of Jews, according to a report from the New York Times.

The two school's presidents at the time – Claudine Gay of Harvard and Liz Magill of Penn – prepared separately for the congressional testimony with teams from WilmerHale, according to the outlet, which cited two unidentified individuals familiar with the situation in its report.

WilmerHale also had a meeting with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) President Sally Kornbluth, according to one person who spoke with the outlet.


Known for its work in defending those who face government investigations, the law firm with offices throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia has had an extensive list of high-profile clients who have found themselves tangled up in controversies that captured the public's attention.

The law firm represented former President Richard Nixon amid his duel with Congress over the Watergate tapes, as well as oil titan BP PLC amid investigations by the government into the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Aside from the larger-scale controversies, WilmerHale has experience working with colleges and universities to mitigate certain crises. 

During last Tuesday's hearing, lawyers for WilmerHale were present and sat in the front row. Those in attendance included Alyssa DaCunha, who leads congressional investigations and crisis management practices for the firm, and Felicia Ellsworth, who serves as vice-chair of the firm's litigation and controversy department.

Both DaCunha and Ellsworth were involved in preparing Gay and Magill ahead of the hearing, according to the report, which also noted that the "schools each independently hired WilmerHale, and the firm created separate teams to prepare each president."

WilmerHale did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital's request for comment.

Following the hearing, which included several lawmakers challenging the university presidents about the issue of antisemitism on their respective campuses, Magill, who had served as Penn's president since July 2022, resigned.

Magill's resignation came after she failed to say during her testimony if calls for the genocide of Jews would violate university policy, a position she faced immense criticism for.

One day after the hearing, Magill walked back her comments in a video posted to X, saying, "There was a moment during yesterday's congressional hearing on antisemitism when I was asked if a call for the genocide of Jewish people on our campus would violate our policies. In that moment, I was focused on our university's long-standing policies aligned with the U.S. Constitution, which says that speech alone is not punishable."

"I was not focused on, but I should have been, on the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate," she added in the December 6 video message.


Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-NY, whose exchange with Magill during the hearing quickly spread across social media, blasted the president's video, calling it a "pathetic PR clean up attempt."

"This pathetic PR clean up attempt by Penn shockingly took over 24 hours to try to fix the moral depravity of the answers under oath yesterday," Stefanik wrote in a post on X. "And there was not even an apology. By the way, the questions were asked over and over and over again."

"No statement will fix what the world saw and heard yesterday," the New York congresswoman added.

During the hearing on antisemitism, Magill, Gay and Kornbluth gave what Stefanik later said were "evasive and dismissive" answers when she asked them if calls for the genocide of Jews would violate their institution's policies on bullying and harassment. 

"If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment. Yes," Magill responded, later adding, "It is a context-dependent decision."

"It can be, depending on the context," Gay responded.

Kornbluth responded to the question, saying that it would be considered harassment only if it's "targeted at individuals, not making public statements" and if it was "pervasive and severe."

In an earlier statement to Fox News Digital, an MIT spokesperson said that "MIT and our president, Sally Kornbluth, reject antisemitism in all its forms," and pointed to a statement from the school's governing board.

"The MIT Corporation chose Sally to be our president for her outstanding academic leadership, her judgment, her integrity, her moral compass, and her ability to unite our community around MIT’s core values. She has done excellent work in leading our community, including in addressing antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate, which we reject utterly at MIT. She has our full and unreserved support," the MIT Corporation wrote.

The Harvard Corporation reaffirmed its support for Gay on Tuesday, hours after the resolution was introduced, stating that she is the "right leader to help our community heal and to address the very serious societal issues we are facing."

In a 303-126 vote Wednesday evening, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution calling on the presidents of Harvard and MIT to resign after their testimony to Congress.

"President Magill has resigned, and the other Presidents should follow suit," states the resolution, which required two-thirds to pass.

Fox News Digital's Adam Sabes and Danielle Wallace contributed to this report.

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