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Trump's legal team features some unexpected members

Jay Sekulow was the chief counsel for TV preacher Pat Robertson's legal group. Now he has a leadership role on Donald Trump's legal team.
The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)
The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. 

Donald Trump realized recently that his Russia scandal had reached the point at which outside legal representation was necessary. Finding a lawyer, however, turned out to be easier said than done: Yahoo News recently reported that the White House reached out to several major firms in D.C., and "at least four" said no.

As we discussed last week, that left the president with Marc Kasowitz, a civil litigator with no background in constitutional cases, who represented the president in a variety of lawsuits, including the fraud allegations surrounding Trump University. Kasowitz has already given indications that he may not be the best person for the job.

But there are others on the president's legal team. Indeed, far-right attorney Jay Sekulow appeared on ABC News yesterday to defend Trump's legal position. And if you're wondering, "Who's Jay Sekulow?" I'm glad you asked.

Let's take a brief stroll down memory lane. After his failed Republican presidential bid in 1988, radical TV preacher Pat Robertson parlayed his donor list into a potent political force. The religious right movement was growing into one of the dominant factions in GOP politics, and Robertson took full advantage of his notoriety -- 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 he created the ACLJ -- the American Center for Law and Justice -- to advance the religious right's agenda in the courts.

Jay Sekulow was the chief counsel for the radical televangelist's legal group. Now he has a leadership role on Donald Trump's legal team.

I don't imagine much of the country recognizes Sekulow's name, but for those familiar with the religious right movement, he's a very high-profile figure, and as TPM's Josh Marshall noted over the weekend, that makes him a curious choice to defend the president in the current circumstances.

... Sekulow is not a criminal attorney. He's not a defense attorney. He's not even an attorney with any specialty in litigating the particular legal privileges of a president.... There is literally nothing in Sekulow's professional background (other than perhaps simply having a law degree) which would suit him to the very specific legal task of defending a sitting president from legal jeopardy. [...]Finding out that Sekulow is on the Trump team too raises real questions about whether Trump will have anyone on the team with a skillset suited to the kind of storm he's entering.

The point here is not that he's some kind of fringe crackpot. Even his critics will concede that Sekulow, who's argued multiple cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, is an effective lawyer for his cause.

Rather, the point is there's a sizable gap between Sekulow's decades of work on religious and social issues -- he's devoted his career to undermining the wall of separation between church and state -- and the task of defending a sitting president facing a growing scandal. When thinking of the kind of lawyers Trump should seek for this crisis, Sekulow's name wouldn't come to mind -- not because he's ridiculous, because he's not that kind of attorney.

For more on Sekulow's background, I'd recommend some pieces from my friends at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Right Wing Watch's collection of recent Sekulow-related stories.