By any fair measure, Donald Trump is confronting a serious legal problem. The former president allegedly took highly classified national security secrets to his glorified country club — and refused to give them back. It ultimately led FBI agents to arrive at his door, as part of an apparent criminal investigation.
Common sense suggests this is precisely the time the Republican would use his resources to hire the best legal defense team money can buy, in preparation for a possible felony indictment. There is, however, an inescapable problem: Top-shelf attorneys don’t want to work for him. The Washington Post reported:
Former president Donald Trump and close aides have spent the eight days since the FBI searched his Florida home rushing to assemble a team of respected defense lawyers. But the answer they keep hearing is “no.” The struggle to find expert legal advice puts Trump in a bind as he faces potential criminal exposure from a records dispute with the National Archives that escalated into a federal investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act and other statutes.
The article quoted one prominent Republican lawyer saying, simply, “Everyone is saying no.”
The result is an almost comical dynamic: As the Post summarized, a former American president is currently represented by a legal defense team that includes a Florida insurance lawyer who’s never had a federal case, a past general counsel for a parking-garage company, and a former host from a propagandistic cable outlet.
It is, to be sure, embarrassing. But it’s also surprisingly familiar.
Four years ago, as the investigation into the Russia scandal intensified, the then-president 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.
Ahead of his second impeachment trial, the Republican again went looking for impressive legal counsel. Bloomberg Law reported at the time, “Allies of the outgoing president have been canvassing Washington’s legal landscape looking for representation but so far are coming up short.”
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.”
To be sure, there are a variety of factors that contribute to a problem like this. The most respected law firms, for example, are no doubt aware of the fact that Trump has a habit of refusing to pay what he owes to those who work for him. Reflecting on the then-president’s inability to secure impressive legal counsel, George Conway noted in a Washington Post op-ed in 2020, “This is what happens when you don’t pay your legal bills.”
That’s true, but it’s not the only relevant angle. Just as notably, good lawyers realize that they — unlike most members of the Republican Party’s cult of personality — can’t lie without consequences. When House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy shamelessly peddles nonsense on Fox News, he knows he can get away with it. When lawyers try to do the same thing in a courtroom, they know they can’t get away with it.
What’s more, good attorneys have certain expectations about their clients. Given Trump’s history of occasionally blurting out confessions, would you want to defend him?
Finally, there’s the not insignificant fact that those who have represented the former president have come to regret it — and they’ve said so publicly.
Trump might be wondering why good law firms keep hanging up when his office calls, but he has no one to blame but himself.