Jun 12, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Trump's attorney-client curse

Illustration of a briefcase with large silver spikes

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Former President Trump's tortured relationship with his own lawyers has been at the root of his most consequential scandals, including two special counsel inquiries, two impeachments and — now — two indictments.

Why it matters: Trump's history of treating lawyers like attack dogs and personal fixers — shaped by his mentorship under the infamous Roy Cohn in the 1970s — has put him in the most precarious legal jeopardy of his life.

  • In New York, Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen is expected to testify at trial in March that he arranged illegal hush money payments during the 2016 campaign at Trump's direction.
  • In Miami, where Trump is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court Tuesday, notes and testimony from his lawyer Evan Corcoran gave prosecutors a detailed roadmap to indict the former president in the classified documents investigations.

Zoom in: Corcoran, who remains a member of Trump's legal team, was forced to testify after a judge determined there was sufficient evidence that Trump used Corcoran to commit a crime — a move that pierced standard attorney-client privilege.

  • The 37-count indictment unsealed Friday alleges that Trump's legal team falsely certified to the Justice Department that all classified documents Trump had taken had been turned over in response to a subpoena.
  • Trump allegedly misled Corcoran by directing his personal aide, Walt Nauta, to move dozens of boxes containing classified records before Corcoran arrived at Mar-a-Lago to conduct a review.

Flashback: The first major investigation of Trump's time in office found that the then-president may have obstructed justice by ordering White House counsel Don McGahn to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. McGahn refused.

  • In 2019, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani worked with the president to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden — resulting in Trump's first impeachment.
  • In 2020, Trump turned to a cast of conspiracy theorists and fringe legal scholars to help him try to overturn his election loss — leading to a second impeachment and a criminal probe of his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The latest: Trump interviewed new candidates to join his legal team Monday, after reportedly struggling over the weekend to find lawyers qualified — and willing — to represent him in the Southern District of Florida.

  • Two of Trump's lawyers resigned the day after his indictment last week, calling it a "logical moment" to step aside because the case was filed in Florida.
  • Timothy Parlatore, another Trump lawyer who had resigned a month earlier, said on CNN on Friday that the departures were "surprising, and yet at the same time unsurprising" — calling it a "difficult situation."

The bottom line: Trump is one of the most famous and wealthiest criminal defendants in the world. But his record of dragging his own lawyers into the mud has turned him into a radioactive client.

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