- President Donald Trump is having trouble hiring new lawyers to represent him in the Russia investigation, and experts say it’s largely because he rarely follows anyone’s advice and favours confrontational personalities.
- Trump has “shown that he can turn on his staff and lawyers at any moment,” said one former federal prosecutor. “It is hard to have confidence that you could represent Trump effectively under those circumstances.”
- Trump said over the weekend that “many lawyers and top law firms” wanted to represent him and urged people not to believe the “fake news narrative that it is hard to find a lawyer who wants to take this on.”
President Donald Trump is having a tough time finding new lawyers to represent him in the ongoing Russia investigation, and it may be because of his own doing.
The turmoil started when Trump lost his top defence attorney last week.
A source familiar with the matter told Business Insider that the lawyer, John Dowd, resigned in part because he was frustrated that Trump was not following his advice in declining an interview with Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.
Dowd, the primary conduit between the president and Mueller, was the member of Trump’s legal team most vocally opposed to a face-to-face interview between the special counsel and his client, who has a history of making misleading and exaggerated claims.
Dowd’s position put him at odds with Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer who has advocated a more cooperative approach to the investigation. It also led to some friction with the president, who has reportedly been “champing at the bit” to sit down for an interview with Mueller.
That friction is most likely a big part of why the president is having trouble hiring a new defence attorney to add to his rapidly shrinking team.
“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.
The president tweeted over the weekend that “many lawyers and top law firms” wanted to represent him and urged people not to believe the “fake news narrative that it is hard to find a lawyer who wants to take this on.”
“Fame & fortune will NEVER be turned down by a lawyer, though some are conflicted,” Trump said.
He said the real issue was that bringing on a new lawyer or firm “will take months to get up to speed (if for no other reason than they can bill more), which is unfair to our great country.”
Trump added: “Besides, there was NO COLLUSION with Russia, except by Crooked Hillary and the Dems!”
Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who has worked with members of Mueller’s team, threw cold water on Trump’s suggestion that lawyers would represent him to attain fame and fortune.
“If you are at a level he’d want, you already have a good reputation and probably a well-paying practice,” Cotter said. “So you don’t need the fame and you don’t need the money. And the risk of hurting both your reputation and your practice … seems large.”
Some legal experts said Trump’s problem may not rest on an inability to find new defence lawyers.
“The bigger issue is Trump’s decision process,” said Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean at Cornell Law School. “He likes people who act like aggressive advocates on the public stage. And he also wants people who ‘click’ with him personally. But neither of those criteria are useful for picking a high-powered defence team.”
Lawyers avoiding the ‘chaos’ and ‘confusion’
On Monday, Tom Buchanan and Dan Webb, attorneys at the law firm Winston & Strawn, declined Trump’s invitation to join his team, citing “business conflicts.”
Joseph DiGenova, an attorney whom the Trump defence lawyer Jay Sekulow had indicated the team would hire, also had to back out, partly because he and his wife and law-firm partner, Victoria Toensing, are representing other parties involved in the Russia investigation.
Theodore Olson, a high-powered GOP lawyer who was the solicitor general under President George W. Bush, also turned down Trump’s offer to represent him, saying there was too much “chaos” and “confusion” on the legal team for it to be effective.
Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor who specialises in white-collar crime, said as much during an interview last week.
“Ideally, a team settles on a single strategy and then executes that strategy with their whole team pulling as one,” Zeidenberg said. “That is the opposite of what is happening here, where you have the confrontational strategy and the cooperation strategy on the same team.”
Whiting said other factors may be at play in Trump’s apparent difficulty in hiring new lawyers to represent him. Some lawyers may feel antipathy toward Trump, while others may have conflicts of interest or fear that representing Trump could hurt their business in the long run.
Whatever the case, Cotter said Dowd’s exit last week was a sign that now is not “a good time to join Trump’s legal squad.”
“The problem is not so much the lawyers as the prospective client,” Cotter said. “I can see a lot of attorneys wondering if they want to jump on what seems at times to be an out-of-control merry-go-round.”