Placeholder while loading article actions
Former President Donald Trump and his close aides have spent the eight days since the FBI raided his Florida home rushing to assemble a team of respected defense attorneys. But the answer they keep hearing is “no”.
The struggle to find expert legal advice puts Trump in a bind as he faces potential criminal exposure to a dispute over records with the National Archives that has escalated into a federal investigation into possible breaches of the Espionage Act and other laws.
“Everyone is saying no,” said a prominent Republican lawyer, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential conversations.
Trump is no stranger to legal proceedings, and his rush to hire lawyers in the face of a disturbing federal investigation recalls his predicament in the summer of 2017, when he was under the watch of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. in the Russia survey. Once again, Trump is struggling to find a veteran criminal defense attorney with a solid track record dealing with the Justice Department in a sprawling, multi-pronged investigation.
Longtime Trump confidants and advisers have grown extremely concerned about Trump’s current stable of lawyers, noting that most of them have little or no experience dealing with such cases. , according to two people familiar with the internal discussions.
Taylor Budowich, a spokesperson for Trump, defended the quality of the former president’s legal team in a statement late Tuesday, naming former federal prosecutors Evan Corcoran and James Trusty.
“The president’s lead attorneys regarding the raid on his home, Jim Trusty and Evan Corcoran, have decades of litigation experience and have argued some of the most complex cases in American history,” Budowich said. “President Trump is represented by some of the strongest lawyers in the country, and any suggestion to the contrary is driven only by envy.
Jon Sale, a prominent Florida defense attorney who worked on the Watergate prosecution team and said he declined to represent Trump last week because he didn’t have enough time to devote to the case, said “Trump’s team needs a top-notch, highly experienced team.” federal criminal.
“You have to assess if you want to take it,” Sale said. “It’s not like a DUI. It represents the former President of the United States – and possibly the next – in what is one of the most high-profile cases of all time.
Normally, the prestige and publicity of representing a former president, along with the new and complex legal issues involved in this case, would attract high-profile lawyers. But Trump’s search is hampered by his divisions, as well as his reputation for stiffening salespeople and ignoring advice.
“He used to tell the companies that represented him that it was an advantage because they could advertise it. Today it’s not the same,” said Michael Cohen, a former Trump attorney who was convicted of tax evasion, misrepresentation, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress in 2018. “He is also a very difficult client as he always pushes the limits. , he rarely listens to sound legal advice, and he wants you to do things that are not ethically or legally appropriate.
A lawyer told a story from early in Trump’s presidency that his legal team urged him not to tweet about the Mueller investigation, only to find he had tweeted about it before he got to the end of it. west wing driveway. Several people said Trump was nearly impossible to represent and it would be unclear if they would ever get paid.
People familiar with the legal aid search said the effort included Susie Wiles, a close Trump adviser, and attorney Christina Bobb, who was present at Mar-a-Lago during the search and signed on for the list of documents seized. Former campaign adviser Boris Epshteyn plays a prominent role and former White House aide Kash Patel advises informally. Patel raises money for a “legal infringement” fund by selling merchandise such as tank tops and beanies emblazoned with the “K$H” logo.
“You get these guys who just live to be around him, and mistakes are made,” said an attorney who isn’t on the team. “These guys just want to make him happy.”
Bobb was previously a host on the pro-Trump far-right television network One America News. At OAN, Bobb covered the Arizona Republican Party’s review of the 2020 ballots — which ultimately confirmed Joe Biden’s victory in the state — while raising money for the effort and speaking with Trump advisers, the Washington Post reported.
Bobb’s prior federal legal experience consists primarily of a handful of trademark infringement cases on behalf of CrossFit during a stint at a San Diego law firm. She did not respond to requests for comment.
Trump’s other attorney currently based in Florida is Lindsey Halligan, whose practice, according to a professional biography, focuses on insurance claims in residential and commercial properties. She was admitted to the Florida bar in 2014. A search of federal court records found no records under her name. She did not respond to requests for comment.
Trump is also represented in the dispute over the records by Alina Habba, who runs a three-lawyer firm with an office near Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J. Her work experience includes serving as general counsel for a parking garages. Last year, Habba began representing Trump in several cases, including defending him from a defamation lawsuit by writer E. Jean Carroll, who accused him of decades-old sexual assault; suing the New York Times and Trump’s niece, Mary L. Trump; and prosecute 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee and other perceived enemies, alleging a conspiracy to harm Donald Trump through the Russian scandal. Habba did not respond to requests for comment.
Other team members have relatively more experience with federal criminal investigations. Trusty previously served in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and headed the Organized Crime and Gangs section. He recently represented clients accused of financial fraud, defrauding the US Department of Agriculture and dealing in counterfeit military uniforms. He referred questions to Trump’s spokesperson.
Corcoran is a former federal prosecutor considered by Trump aides to be a serious and experienced lawyer. Among his recent clients are a former Capitol Police officer accused of obstructing the Jan. 6 investigation by telling a riot suspect to delete Facebook posts, and a Pennsylvania man who pleaded guilty to participating in the riot and was sentenced to 60 days in prison. Corcoran also represented former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon in his contempt trial for defying a House subpoena during the Jan. 6 inquiry. Bannon was convicted in July.
Some of Trump’s interactions with the Justice Department were also handled by John Rowley, another former federal prosecutor now in his own firm, Politico reported. Rowley did not respond to requests for comment.
In another potential complication, any lawyer who gave assurances to the FBI on Trump’s behalf could have their own legal exposure or become a witness in the case. A letter signed by a lawyer on Trump’s team was sent to the Justice Department in June suggesting that all classified documents had been turned over, according to a person with direct knowledge of the case. The existence of the letter was first reported by The New York Times.
“Either the attorney acted in good faith on what turned out to be factual misrepresentations made by Mr. Trump or someone else communicating on his behalf, in which case Mr. Trump or his agent would be liable for criminal prosecution for misrepresentation or obstruction of justice. , or the attorney knowingly gave false assurances to the government,” said David Laufman, the former head of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence division, which is currently investigating classified records kept at Trump’s home. “And it’s hard to believe that a lawyer would knowingly lie to the government about the continued presence of classified documents.”
The universe of experienced federal practitioners is not really that large, and the case would probably monopolize their time to the exclusion of all other clients. Potential candidates and their companies could be further discouraged by the controversy surrounding Trump’s defense.
“Good lawyers should have been working on this case for months,” said Alan Dershowitz, the former Harvard Law School professor who has advised Trump in the past and said he was not asked to do so. involve now. “He needs a big, good, very experienced defense team with business experience.”
Dershowitz said he recommended his Harvard colleague, Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., faculty director of the Harvard Criminal Justice Institute and the Harvard Trial Advocacy Workshop. Sullivan said he hasn’t heard from Trump’s team.
“They clearly need someone with federal trial experience and someone familiar with high-profile cases who can stay focused on their task and not be distracted by the media glare,” Sullivan said. “The case itself presents a series of questions that many good lawyers would be interested in. Some attorneys may reasonably be under the impression that the public will confuse Mr. Trump’s policy goals and positions with those of the attorney. In this way, many lawyers may be reluctant to expose themselves to the public opprobrium that would follow this type of representation.
Trump has long been a notoriously demanding customer when it comes to maintenance. When trying to make his mark in Manhattan real estate as a young man, Trump had a particularly demanding cadence with his attorney, the late Roy Cohn. “Donald calls me 15 to 20 times a day. He’s always asking, ‘What’s the status of this…and that?'” Cohn reportedly said in a Vanity Fair article about their attorney-client relationship.
Many of the president’s former attorneys, such as Pat Cipollone, Pat Philbin and Justin Clark, are not expected to be involved in defending the investigation, people familiar with the matter said. Cipollone has already been interviewed, one such person said, a detail first reported by The New York Times.
Two longtime legal advisers to Trump during the Mueller investigation, Jay Sekulow and Jane Raskin, are still close to the former president but are not involved with his current legal team. Among other defense veterans in the Mueller investigation, Ty Cobb has become publicly critical of Trump, and former White House attorney Donald McGahn is no longer close to the former president. McGahn represented Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who is fighting a subpoena in a separate investigation into Trump and his allies in Georgia. Another former Trump lawyer, Emmet Flood, now represents Marc Short, an adviser to former Vice President Mike Pence.
“It’s not good,” a Trump confidant said of the president’s absence of a top white-collar defense attorney. “Something big is going to pop. Someone has to be in charge.
Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this article misstated the name of a spokesperson for former President Donald Trump. He’s Taylor Budowich, not Taylor Budovich. This article has been corrected.