President Donald Trump walks to the podium to address participants of the annual March for Life event, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington,...
Manuel Balce Ceneta

Trump’s new defense attorney burdened by a controversial past

It was just last week when we learned Donald Trump was eyeing an addition to his legal defense team. The New York Times  reported that the president had already had discussions with Emmet Flood, a veteran D.C. attorney with an exceptional reputation who has exactly the right kind of background Trump needs given the seriousness of the Russia scandal.

The president insisted soon after, however, that the report was wrong and that he was “VERY happy” with his current lawyers. (My personal hunch is that Flood turned the president down.)

As it turns out, Trump has hired added a member to his legal defense team – but it’s not someone of Emmet Flood’s caliber.

President Trump has decided to hire the longtime Washington lawyer Joseph E. diGenova, who has pushed the theory on television that Mr. Trump was framed by F.B.I. and Justice Department officials, to bolster his legal team, according to three people told of the decision.

Mr. diGenova is not expected to take a lead role but will instead serve as a more aggressive player on the president’s legal team.

Though Trump hasn’t directly confirmed the news, Jay Sekulow, another member of the president’s defense team, told NBC News, “I have worked with Joe for many years and have full confidence that he will be a great asset in our representation of the president.”

At this point, I imagine some of you are asking, “Who’s Joe diGenova?” And I’m very glad you asked.

Recently, diGenova has been appearing on television quite a bit – remember, Trump’s TV remote dictates a little too much of his presidency – pushing a conspiracy theory about a cabal of FBI agents who manufactured the Russia scandal as part of an anti-Trump plot. This cabal, diGenova has said on Fox News, set out to “frame Donald Trump of a falsely created crime.”

That’s obviously quite nutty given the total lack of evidence to support the claim, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who’ve followed diGenova’s career over the last couple of decades. Rachel noted on the show last year that diGenova became a prominent political figure during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, where he peddled all sorts of strange claims during hundreds of television appearances.

Years later, when the right was excited about Benghazi conspiracy theories, diGenova was once again on the airwaves, pushing unsubstantiated claims about the Obama administration intimidating witnesses. He soon after cited secret sources who told him Hillary Clinton would be indicted over her emails and was bound for prison.

More recently, diGenova was worked up about claims that former National Security Advisor Susan Rice ordered intelligence agencies to cooperate in some kind of illegal scheme involving Donald Trump’s communications with his staffers.

And against the backdrop of him getting one thing wrong after another, diGenova then started talking up an FBI conspiracy theory – which apparently helped him land a gig on the president’s legal team.

Obviously, diGenova’s track record of pushing strange, right-wing conspiracy theories on television makes it difficult to take him seriously, but because Donald Trump is Donald Trump, the opposite is true in the White House: this president loves those who push strange, right-wing conspiracy theories on television. The same qualities that make Joseph diGenova appear foolish in the eyes of the American mainstream are the very qualities that make him appealing to Trump.

For those who support the president and want him to succeed, none of this is good news. 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.

I’m not sure he’s getting it. Trump – who already had to replace the former head of his legal team, who seemed completely out of his depth – has assembled a group of attorneys who haven’t  necessarily  served  him especially well, and he’s now adding a conspiracy theorist whom the president probably saw on Fox News, peddling a strange tale with no basis in fact.

Those who want the best for Trump – those who want to see him benefit from a sound, responsible legal defense – have no reason to be pleased by these developments.

Donald Trump and Scandals

Trump's new defense attorney burdened by a controversial past