- President Donald Trump has elevated a little-known lawyer with scarce experience in white-collar criminal defence to a leading role on his legal team in the Russia investigation.
- The lawyer, Andrew Ekonomou, has a doctorate in medieval history and has significant experience fighting religious freedom and street crime cases.
- “If it were me who was under investigation, this is not the profile of someone I would even consider hiring,” one former federal prosecutor said.
As he continues struggling to find a defence attorney to represent him in the Russia investigation, President Donald Trump has elevated a little-known lawyer to a key position on his legal defence team.
Reuters reported this week that the president has tapped attorney Andrew Ekonomou to play a central role in managing his communications with the special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
Ekonomou serves as senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington, DC. Trump’s primary defence attorney, Jay Sekulow, spearheads the organisation.
Ekonomou is one of a handful of attorneys assisting Sekulow, who is now in charge of handling communications with Mueller’s office, according to Reuters, and has been lending a hand since June. Sekulow told the outlet that Ekonomou will take on a more prominent role on the team following the resignation of then-lead defence attorney John Dowd last week.
Neither Sekulow nor Ekonomou have significant experience fighting white-collar criminal defence cases.
Ekonomou hails from a less conventional background than most attorneys who might accept a job working on the country’s most high-profile criminal investigation in decades.
According to his resume, Ekonomou received four degrees from Emory University: a BA in philosophy in 1970, an MA in medieval history in 1971, a law degree in 1974, and a PhD in Medieval History in 2000.
Ekonomou began working at a private law firm in 1983 and continues practicing there to date. The firm was originally named Ekonomou, Atkinson & Lambros, but later changed its name to the Lambros Firm. The company is based in Atlanta, Georgia and employs two to 10 people, according to its LinkedIn profile.
The firm’s website contains no information and has a default message on the homepage indicating the site owner has not altered it since purchasing the domain. It also has options directing users to share its link on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and other social media platforms.
Ekonomou did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Ekonomou has some experience working as a government lawyer. He served as legal counsel to the Majority Leader of Georgia’s House of Representatives and later as assistant attorney general and chief of the Criminal Division in the Northern District of Georgia.
Based on publicly available information, the vast majority of Ekonomou’s legal work deals with investigating street crime, smaller fraud cases, and religious freedom issues.
Ekonomou told Reuters he “prosecutes a lot of murders for the DA.” Asked about his biggest cases lately, he replied, “That’s basically it. Nothing earthshaking.”
Legal experts question the hire
Legal experts were baffled by Trump’s decision to elevate Ekonomou to a leading role on his legal team.
Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the Department of Justice, said that with Dowd’s departure, “other than Ty Cobb, Trump does not have an [attorney] who has worked on cases remotely similar to what Mueller is pursuing.”
Trump’s decision to promote Ekonomou “seems like a totally bizarre choice of a lawyer for this kind of criminal investigation,” said Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor who specialised in white-collar crime. “If it were me who was under investigation, this is not the profile of someone I would even consider hiring.”
Ekonomou has an online biography on a separate website run by the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle, and it says he is active in litigating religious freedom cases as part of his work for the ACLJ and the European Centre for Law and Justice in France.
He has also held various teaching positions. With the exception of one which related to teaching law, all appear to have been focused on medieval and European history.
Ekonomou’s resume, as well as another online biography, tout several “unpublished manuscripts” that he’s written. All of them center around religion and European history.
Trump promoted Ekonomou after eight prominent defence attorneys declined or backed out of offers to join his legal team in recent weeks.
While most experienced defence lawyers would typically embrace an opportunity to represent the president in a high-stakes investigation like the Russia probe, experts said the reason they were declining the offer in this case was largely Trump’s own doing.
“Lawyers who might ordinarily [represent him] are unwilling because they see that Trump is unprepared to listen to the advice of his lawyers,” said Alex Whiting, a former federal prosecutor who is now a professor at Harvard Law School.
He added that Trump has “shown that he can turn on his staff and lawyers at any moment.”
“It is hard to have confidence that you could represent Trump effectively under those circumstances,” Whiting said.