First American Officers Hire 2d Top Lawyer

WASHINGTON -- Clark M. Clifford and Robert Altman have hired heavyweight lawyer Robert S. Bennett to represent them during investigations of First American Bankshares Inc.

Investigators have contended that First American, of which Mr. Clifford and Mr. Altman are top officers, was controlled by Luxembourg-based Bank of Credit and Commerce International in violation of U.S. banking law.

Mr. Bennett, who is with the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, had a high Washington profile this year as special counsel to the Senate ethics committee in its investigation of five senators' ties to former thrift owner Charles H. Keating Jr.

Teamed with Fiske

Mr. Bennett forms a legal team with Robert B. Fiske Jr., a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who is senior litigation partner in the firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell. Mr. Fiske said Mr. Bennett was added in the last several weeks "as things intensified."

First American is being investigated by the Manhattan District Attorney in New York, the U.S. Justice Department, and the Federal Reserve Board for possible violations of banking and money-laundering laws.

The agencies are trying to learn how Bank of Credit and Commerce International gained control of First American Bankshares Inc. of Washington without the Federal Reserve knowing about it.

U.S. News and World Report reported that Mr. Clifford, chairman of the Washington banking company, could be indicted this summer. Mr. Altman is president of First American Corp., the entity that owns First American Bankshares.

Neither |Targeted' by Probe

Of the magazine report, Mr. Fiske said, "Neither one of them has been told he is a target in any investigation."

"It is absolutely clear to me that neither Clifford nor Altman did anything illegal, improper, or unethical," said Mr. Bennett.

The lawyers said both Mr. Clifford and Mr. Altman intend to stay in their respective posts at First American. "There is no reason for them to resign," Mr. Fiske said.

An assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia from 1967 to 1970, Mr. Bennett was counsel to the Senate Ethics Committee during the Abscam investigation of former Sen. Harrison A. Williams Jr., D-N.J.

"He is a tenacious guy," said Roger M. Adelman, a partner at Kirkpatrick and Lockhart, who worked for the U.S. attorney with Mr. Bennett. His brother is former Bush administration antidrug czar William Bennett.

PHOTO : Clark M. Clifford Bolsters legal team

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