We’ve taken note on an occasion or two of the historic staffing volatility within Donald Trump’s administration, and while the changes to the president’s legal defense team involve far fewer people, they’re every bit as embarrassing.
Seven days ago, Trump decided to hire Joe diGenova, a far-right conspiracy theorist and frequent Fox News guest, to help defend him from the investigation into the Russia scandal. Four days ago, John Dowd, who oversaw the president’s legal defense team, resigned. Three days ago, Trump also brought on Joe diGenova’s wife, Victoria Toensing, another Fox News personality.
All of which brought us to yesterday, when the president parted ways with the newest members of his team, less than a week after bringing then aboard. The New York Times reported:
President Trump has decided not to hire two lawyers who were announced last week as new additions to his legal team, leaving him with a shrinking stable of lawyers as the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, enters an intense phase.
“The president is disappointed that conflicts prevent Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing from joining the president’s special counsel legal team,” Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said in a statement on Sunday morning. “However, those conflicts do not prevent them from assisting the president in other legal matters. The president looks forward to working with them.”
The president had apparently never met diGenova or Toensing before last week, and while the official explanation for the latest developments is the cross-client conflict – Toensing already represents Mark Corallo, who served as the legal team’s spokesperson – the Times’ article added, “According to two people told of details about the meeting, the president did not believe he had personal chemistry with Mr. diGenova and Ms. Toensing.”
I’m not sure which is worse. Under the first version of events, Trump and his aides never bothered to consider the significance of the conflicts before announcing to the public that diGenova or Toensing would join the team. Under the second version of events, the president hired attorneys because he liked their television appearances, then met them, and then effectively declared, “On second thought, no.”
Both explanations share a common denominator: rank incompetence.
So where does the president’s legal team now stand? Marc Kasowitz, a civil litigator, used to lead the team, but he was demoted last year. John Dowd took his place, and now he’s resigned. Joe diGenova was poised to have a key role, but he and his wife are now also out.
Ty Cobb is still around, although he’s clashed with the White House counsel’s office, and the president has already reportedly started asking people in his orbit whether to fire him. And then there’s Jay Sekulow, who has literally no background in this kind of legal work, who’s best known for leading a legal group created by a radical televangelist, and who oversees a highly dubious fundraising operation.
The New York Times added this morning that the president’s legal defense operation has “shrunk to essentially just one member,” and that’s Sekulow.
It’s against this backdrop that Trump took to Twitter yesterday to insist that everything with his legal defense team couldn’t be better. Sounding a bit like the guys I knew in middle school who insisted they had amazing girlfriends whom we couldn’t meet because they went to other schools, the president declared, “Many lawyers and top law firms want to represent me in the Russia case.”
Let’s not forget that last summer, Yahoo News reported that “at least four” major law firms had turned the president down. Last week, meanwhile, a CNN reporter added that four defense attorneys from major firms were approached to take Trump’s case, and all four “turned him down.”
The president added yesterday that the “problem” with bringing new attorneys onto the case is that it would “take months to get up to speed (if for no other reason than they can bill more), which is unfair to our great country – and I am very happy with my existing team.”
So, to review, the president said he wasn’t going to change his legal team. He then hired a new lawyer, lost an old lawyer, hired yet another lawyer, and then dropped the two newest additions after meeting them for the first time.
We’re now supposed to believe he’s delighted with his dwindling team, despite apparently having given a fair amount of thought to the problems associated with hiring new lawyers.
All the while, we’re also supposed to believe “many” attorneys are eager to work for him, despite the fact that his lead attorney just quit, and the multiple independent reports about prominent D.C. lawyers rejecting his overtures.
Circling back to our coverage from last week, Trump is facing a serious scandal of historic significance, which may very well bring his presidency to a premature end. He needs the best legal defense possible.
Instead, Trump’s legal defense team has become a comedy of errors at a dangerous time. The White House’s allies have reason to be concerned.