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In Russia scandal, Pat Robertson's legal group is key for Trump

As Robert Mueller's probe heats up, Trump needs the best possible legal defense. He's instead leaning on a legal created by a radical TV preacher.
In this Oct. 23, 2015, file photo, Jay Sekulow speaks at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va.
In this Oct. 23, 2015, file photo, Jay Sekulow speaks at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va.

Plenty of presidential candidates have talked about parlaying unsuccessful campaigns into powerful political operations, but only one has pulled it off in a meaningful way: radical TV preacher Pat Robertson.

As we discussed last summer, Robertson cultivated an enormous donor list during his 1988 bid, filled with politically engaged evangelicals, and he turned that list into a potent force fairly quickly. As the religious right movement grew into one of the dominant factions in Republican politics, Robertson took full advantage of the opportunity -- cultivating a mini-empire featuring an activist organization (the Christian Coalition), a college (Regent University), an annual political gathering (the Christian Coalition's "Road to Victory" conference), and a broadcast presence (the Christian Broadcasting Network).

But Robertson also wanted a legal group intended to serve as a right-wing rival to the ACLU, so the televangelist created the ACLJ -- the American Center for Law and Justice -- and hired Jay Sekulow to lead the group and to advance the religious right's agenda in the courts.

What few could've predicted is that the ACLJ would become the heart of Donald Trump's legal defense in the Russia scandal.

Sekulow, of course, is effectively now leading the president's legal defense outside the White House, as more attorneys with relevant experience turn Trump down. The president's legal team is also now literally sharing office space at the ACLJ's headquarters in the nation's capital. And Reuters reports today on another ACLJ lawyer who's now playing a role in the case.

A little-known former prosecutor with a doctorate in medieval history will play a central role on U.S. President Donald Trump's legal team, as many top-tier lawyers shy away from representing him in a probe into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election.Andrew Ekonomou, 69, is one of a handful of lawyers assisting Jay Sekulow, the main attorney representing Trump in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.Sekulow told Reuters on Tuesday that after the departure of Washington attorney John Dowd from Trump's personal legal team last week, Ekonomou will assume a more prominent role.

As a professional matter, Ekonomou appears to wear more than one hat, but the Reuters report went on to note his work with -- you guessed it -- the American Center for Law and Justice.

Just so we're clear, I'm not casting aspersions. I don't agree with Sekulow or the ACLJ, but I recognize the fact that they're sometimes good at what they do. If your kids wanted to form an after-school Bible-reading club, and school administrations resisted, I have no doubt that the American Center for Law and Justice could intervene and resolve the matter in your family's favor.

But the idea that lawyers from the ACLJ are helping take the lead in representing Donald Trump's interests in an ongoing criminal investigation is bizarre. It's a bit like hiring members of the New England Patriots to play for the Boston Celtics -- sure, they're professional athletes, but they bring the wrong skill set to the table.

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe heats up, the president needs the best possible legal defense. Right now, he doesn't have it.