Donald Trump
Credit: Michael Vadon/Flickr

President Trump can’t find a top law firm that wants to represent him. He and his top aides have tried. They’ve looked around. They’ve had conference calls. But they got zip, nada, bupkis. The top litigators and their firms have various reasons why they won’t agree to represent the president of the United States. Here are some of them:

1. They won’t get paid.
2. Their client wouldn’t follow their advice.
3. They represent clients who have been or might be subpoenaed in money laundering aspects of the case.
4. It would destroy the image and reputation of their firm.
5. It would ‘kill’ efforts to recruit top lawyers to their firm.
6. They’ll be washing their hair that year (“I’m too busy to represent the POTUS.”)
7. He can’t be saved.

To me, that’s a damning list. Under ordinary circumstances, I can’t think of anything more prestigious for a law firm than to be able to say that when the shit hits the fan, they’re the ones who take the call from the president. But, with this president, they’re not even confident that the client won’t stiff them on their bill. They’re also savvy enough to realize that the Trump Organization is up to its ears in money laundering and that this will create a conflict with the large banking institutions they represent. And Trump is so toxic, guilty, and unsympathetic that simply advocating on his behalf would cause people to shun and disdain their whole organization. Plus, they’d lose the case anyway in part because their advice wouldn’t be followed.

The result is that Trump is trying to use his divorce attorney Marc Kasowitz to represent him in a counterintelligence investigation that has the highest political stakes. And that’s an eighth reason why the big firms won’t touch the case. Mike Allen explains:

With CNN’s clock already counting down to fired FBI Director Jim Comey’s testimony on Thursday morning, where’s the White House war room? Remember the scandal-containment unit that was supposed to quarantine the rest of the White House from Russia questions, so that President Trump could pursue a positive agenda, with the Clinton-style scandal machinery handling the investigations?

  • I’m told that the inside-outside machinery, as envisioned by aides who frantically planned it while Trump finished his overseas trip, may never exist. Top Republicans say the White House has been unable to lure some of the legal and rapid-response talent they had been counting on.
  • White House Counsel Don McGahn had drawn up an org chart that Trump’s team liked. But Game Day is 48 hours away, and the boxes aren’t filled.
  • A person involved in the conversations said: “They had a pretty good structure, but they’re not able to close the deal.”
  • Reasons include some power lawyers’ reluctance to work with/for lead Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz; resistance by Kasowitz to more cooks in his kitchen; and lack of confidence that Trump would stick to advice. Some prospects worry about possible personal legal bills, and are skeptical Trump can right the ship.

I’m not sure what Allen means there by “possible personal legal bills” but fear of not getting paid was mentioned in Michael Isikoff’s piece as a recurring theme. Do lawyers also fear that they’d open themselves up to legal jeopardy by representing the president? That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

In any case, they wanted to build a giant war room to fight back against the coming allegations of obstruction of justice and who knows what else, and they completely failed because no one wants to take Trump’s side in this dispute. Forget the State Department, Trump can’t even staff up a legal defense team.

He’s stuck with a guy who specializes in pre-nuptial agreements and who represented him in his Trump University fraud cases.

The president’s chief lawyer now in charge of the case is Marc E. Kasowitz, a tough New York civil litigator who for years has aggressively represented Trump in multiple business and public relations disputes — often with threats of countersuits and menacing public statements — but who has little experience dealing with complex congressional and Justice Department investigations that are inevitably influenced by media coverage and public opinion.

Now, Mr. Kasowitz may be a “tough New York civil litigator” but he’s probably not quite as tough as Trump’s other more infamous lawyer Michael Cohen. You might remember that Michael Cohen made news during the campaign when he wanted to push back against the revelation that Ivana Trump once gave a deposition accusing the future president of marital rape. Cohen insisted that marital rape is impossible and told reporters that he’d deal with them harshly if they wrote about it.

First, Trump Organization attorney Michael Cohen told the Daily Beast that marital rape is perfectly legal A-OK. Then, in the same disastrous interview, he told Daily Beast reporter Tim Mak he’d “destroy your life,” the way he said he had done to a former Miss USA contestant.

“I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know,” Cohen said. “So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?”

“You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape,’ and I’m going to mess your life up… for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet… you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it,” he added.

Unfortunately for Trump, he can’t retain Michael Cohen to represent him in this case because Cohen has been subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee.

Cohen has acknowledged meeting in January with Felix Sater, a Manhattan real estate developer who worked on several projects with Trump, and a Ukrainian lawmaker who asked them to bring the White House a pro-Russian peace deal for Ukraine.

Cohen was quoted in the New York Times in February saying he gave the envelope containing the proposal to Flynn, but Cohen later denied delivering it to the White House.

At this point you might want to review my April piece: Trump, Felix Sater and the Mob. It might help you understand why this happened:

In a separate development, a senior Justice Department lawyer and FBI veteran with experience in complex financial fraud investigations has agreed to join the special counsel’s investigation.

Andrew Weissman has led the fraud section at the Justice Department, where he oversaw investigations into corporate wrongdoing at Volkswagen and Takata. He is the highest-ranking Justice Department official to join Mueller’s team.

Separately, the Senate Intelligence Committee has asked for information from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, a division of the Treasury Department that focuses on complicated or suspicious financial transactions: “Investigators are interested in companies that have done business with Mr. Trump or have connections with him, said people familiar with the matter. That could include businesses associated with members of Mr. Trump’s family, such as Jared Kushner…”

When former FBI director James Comey testifies on Thursday, he’ll probably talk freely about his personal interactions with the president and, thus, about aspects of the case that pertain to obstruction of justice. On the counterintelligence and money laundering and fraud elements of the case, I expect he will be tight lipped.

The cover-up can sometimes sink you even if the underlying case is not proven, so the focus on obstruction isn’t unwarranted. But the meat and potatoes of the investigation is still Trump’s relationship with Russian intelligence, the Russian mob, money laundering operations and outright business fraud.

For a while at least the communications strategy for Trump was to deny there is any definitive proof that Russia was behind the hacks, and The Intercept was all-too-happy to amplify that message. Yesterday, however, The Intercept published an internal classified report from the National Security Agency (NSA) that fingers the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) as both being one of the culprits and as having gone much further than previously disclosed.

Another defense was that there has been absolutely no proof whatsoever of actual cooperation or collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, but that has been steadily crumbling as well. Not only have the congresspeople who’ve seen the classified evidence been telling us that there is evidence of collusion, but now the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is under investigation for trying to set up a secret back channel to the Russians and meeting with a trained Russian spy who runs a sanctioned Russian bank.

Under the circumstances, it won’t be enough to push back against clear evidence of obstruction of justice. The top lawyers in Washington, D.C. can suss out the landscape here and see where it’s going. It’s not a surprise that they want no part of defending the president, but it does tell us something. It tells us how low the office of the presidency has sunk. It used to be a prestigious office. It’s now more like a Superfund site.

I guess that’s what happens when you dump coal ash in the swamp.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at