IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

A familiar problem: Trump struggles to find a legal defense team

With his second impeachment trial coming up, Trump is once again in the market for a legal defense team. Not for the first time, it's not going well.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump walks to the Marine One helicopter after speaking to reporters from the South Lawn of the White House, on July 31, 2020.Carlos Barria / Reuters file

With his second impeachment trial coming up, Donald Trump is once again in the market for a legal defense team. Bloomberg Law reported yesterday that the Republican is "having trouble."

Allies of the outgoing president have been canvassing Washington's legal landscape looking for representation but so far are coming up short. Lawyers who defended him in the previous impeachment trial, including Jay Sekulow and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, have said no this time, according to people familiar with the matter. Other lawyers who have defended Trump at times, including former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, Eric Herschmann, Pat Philbin and Marc Kasowitz aren't interested in joining a team this time, the people said.

The article added that some of the lawyers who aren't interested in joining the Republican's team "have privately said what Trump did was indefensible."

Princeton's Keith Whittington told Bloomberg Law, "I think it's reflective of where Trump's own status is these days in which he has relatively little to offer and people don't want to be associated with him generally. The fact is he's not going to get the A team."

The political scientist went on to note that top-tier lawyers realize Trump isn't easy to defend, and the effort itself may "tarnish people's professional reputation down the road."

And while this is striking in its own right, I'm also struck by the familiarity of the circumstances.

Just two years into his term, as the Russia scandal intensified, Trump boasted that "many lawyers and top law firms" were eager to represent him. That wasn't true: many of the top-tier lawyers who'd ordinarily be considered for such a role steered clear of the case.

Last year, during his first impeachment trial, Trump struggled again to assemble a credible team of attorneys. George Conway noted in an op-ed last January, "This is what happens when you don't pay your legal bills."

It was a funny line, but it wasn't necessarily a joke. There are a variety of factors contributing to Trump's difficulties in finding good legal representation -- his apparent guilt, the severity of his misdeeds, his erratic unpredictability, his willingness to occasionally blurt out confessions, etc. -- but his reputation for refusing to pay his bills almost certainly doesn't help.

Indeed, it was just this week when multiple reports noted that Trump has directed his aides not to pay Rudy Giuliani's legal fees. That may seem understandable given the former mayor's on-the-job performance, but for attorneys weighing whether to take on Trump as a client, it's one more reason to hang up the phone when the West Wing calls.