Trump’s Legal Team Is Preparing for War – Vanity Fair
James Comey’s blistering testimony before the Senate intelligence committee wasn’t the legal slam-dunk that Democrats seeking Donald Trump’s impeachment were hoping for, but it was also far from the win the president’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, described hours later, when he accused the former F.B.I. director of perjury. The allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian efforts to throw the 2016 election remain unsubstantiated, but evidence is piling up that Trump himself may be engaged in some kind of cover-up, having allegedly pressured Comey to drop his investigation and then firing him when he declined to do so. Now, as the war between Trump and special counsel Robert Mueller begins to heat up, both sides are adding manpower ahead of what could be a years-long legal battle over whether the president attempted to obstruct justice.
On Sunday, prominent conservative defense lawyer Jay Sekulow made his public debut as a member of Trump’s legal team on This Week with George Stephanopolous. The addition of Sekulow, who has argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court, is likely to assuage some concerns about Kasowitz’s fitness for representing the president. “He’s going to be the Lanny Davis of this,” a source familiar with Trump’s legal team told Axios’s Jonathan Swan, referring to one of Bill Clinton’s lawyers during the Whitewater investigation. “He’s sharp on his feet and polished. He’s exactly what Trump likes.”
The addition of Sekulow comes at a critical time for the president. Last week, Kasowitz was met with criticism when he stepped into the limelight for the first time to deliver a confusing, typo-ridden statement rebutting Comey’s public remarks and setting the stage for Trump to offer his own sworn testimony. White House aides were reportedly unimpressed by the performance, and legal experts pointed to the obvious risks in Kasowitz’s strategy of impugning the former F.B.I. director. While Kasowitz has decades of experience as a litigator in New York, and is considered deeply loyal to Trump, he doesn’t have experience working White House ethics cases—what one prominent Washington, D.C. , defense attorney told me is “the Bermuda Triangle” for lawyers. Kasowitz also has two prominent clients connected to the Kremlin—Oleg Derispaka, a pro-Vladimir Putin Russian oligarch with ties to Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Sberbank, the largest state-owned bank in Russia. The optics, it goes without saying, aren’t ideal.
Kasowitz and Sekulow will have their work cut out for them. At least four top-flight law firms reportedly passed on representing Trump, given his unique issues as a client. The best thing for the president would be to say, “Look, I am not going to talk about this stuff anymore, and if you want something out, then you call my lawyer but not me,” the D.C. lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous, told me. “But he like every day throws chum in the water and the fish respond.” While Trump managed to stay quiet throughout Comey’s testimony last week, he has since let loose on Twitter, accusing him of making “false statements and lies,” being a “leaker,” and being “very ‘cowardly!’ ”
Already, the president is placing himself in potential legal jeopardy. On Friday, Trump said at a press conference that he would be “100 percent” willing to testify under oath about his conversations with Comey if asked by Mueller, setting up a situation in which one of them could be indicted for perjury. “I think the question for them going forward for the administration—the president, his chief of staff—is not to make matters worse. What they don’t want to do is what the president did with the firing of Comey,” one Washington lawyer who served in a previous White House administration told me. “He took a situation that might have been problematic, and he made it considerably worse, prompting questions of obstruction of justice, issued conflicting statements about the reason for the dismissal.”
Mueller, meanwhile, isn’t wasting any time in building up his own team. Among the special counsel’s hires is Justice Department deputy solicitor general, Michael Dreeben, who will work part-time for Mueller on the Russia probe, a revelation the LawFare blog characterized on Friday as “The Worst Thing That Happened to Donald Trump This Week.” A criminal defense lawyer who has argued 100 cases before the Supreme Court, Dreeben is among the most respected in his ranks. “Michael is the most brilliant and most knowledgeable federal criminal lawyer in America—period,” Walter Dellinger, a law professor at Duke University School of Law and acting solicitor general for the 1996-1997 term of the Supreme Court, told the The Washington Post. Another is reportedly Andrew Weissmann, chief of the fraud section of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, who previously oversaw the high-profile prosecutions of Jeffrey Skilling, Ken Lay, and Andrew Fastow in the 2001 Enron scandal.
Still, Trump’s unique status makes him a much harder target than either Mueller, Dreeben, or Weissmann have ever investigated. And Trump has his own secret weapon, too: as president, he could always fire Mueller as special counsel, even if such an act would almost certainly be self- destructive. “Look, the president of the United States, as we all know, is a unitary executive,” Sekulow said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, refusing to rule out the possibility. “But the president is going to seek the advice of his counsel and inside the government as well as outside. And I’m not going to speculate on what he will, or will not, do.”