As Russia scandal percolates, AG Sessions the latest to lawyer up

Image: Jeff Sessions
Attorney General-designate, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before...

In late May, the White House's Russia scandal reached the point at which Donald Trump found it necessary to lawyer up, hiring his own outside counsel to represent the president's personal interests. About three weeks later, Mike Pence, facing plenty of questions of his own, did the same thing.

The vice president told reporters last week, in response to questions about taking this step, "It's very routine. Very routine." That's not even close to being true: vice presidents very rarely have to hire outside counsel in the midst of a federal investigation.

It's even more unusual for attorneys general to hire their own lawyer, but the Washington Post reported that Jeff Sessions has done exactly that.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been under fire in recent months for his contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential race, has retained the services of Washington lawyer Charles J. Cooper, a longtime friend. [...]Cooper, a partner with his own firm, Cooper & Kirk, would not say when he was retained by Sessions or whether he is representing Sessions in the special counsel's investigation into Trump and Russia.

If Cooper's name sounds familiar, there are two reasons why. First, Cooper, a leading figure in Republican legal circles for many years, was a top contender for solicitor general in the Trump administration before surprisingly withdrawing from consideration in February.

Second, Cooper was also seen during Jeff Sessions' testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week: he was the one sitting behind the attorney general. USA Today reported that Cooper helped prepare Sessions for the hearing.

He's a perfectly sensible choice for the A.G. Indeed, in this case, Pence and Sessions have both hired exactly the kind of outside counsel you'd expect people in their position to hire given the circumstances. The same cannot be said of the president, whose legal team includes, shall we say, some nontraditional choices.

But let's not miss the forest for the trees here. As we discussed in May, when a political scandal grows more serious, and powerful officials grow anxious about the direction of an ongoing investigation, we tend to reach the "lawyer up phase." As of yesterday, we know the president, vice president, and attorney general have all secured outside counsel to represent their interests.

There's nothing routine about any of this.