Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Legal Nightmare of Representing Trump

Ted Olsen who refused to join Trump's legal team
Earlier in the week news came out that Donald Trump had approached super lawyer Ted Olsen about joining Trump's legal team.  Olsen wisely declined the invitation apparently concerned about how history might view him and also likely aware of the dangers in representing a pathological liar.  It is one thing to provide a client with a vigorous legal defense and something quite different to participate in a deliberate effort to lie to a legal tribunal or governmental investigative authorities.  With Trump, it would seem the latter sooner or later would become unavoidable and thereby put members of his legal team at risk for disbarment or worse.  A piece in Vanity Fair looks at efforts of Trump's legal team to restrain Trump from engaging in out right lies to Robert Mueller and how such efforts may still fail to stop Trump's legal jeopardy.  Here are excerpts: 
Representing President Donald Trump is not exactly a lawyer’s dream job. True, there are high stakes and lots of media attention. The downsides, though, include a slippery client who barely listens to your advice and who might not pay your bill. That combination has forced Don McGahn, Ty Cobb, and John Dowd to make some unusual strategic choices in trying to fend off Robert Mueller. The most recent was sending the special counsel a written summary of the White House version of key events in the Russia saga. The gambit is intended to get Mueller to narrow the range of a possible Trump interview. And it’s almost certainly doomed.
“I think it’s the nuttiest thing I’ve ever heard,” says Solomon Wisenberg, the former federal prosecutor who elicited the damning “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” answer from President Bill Clinton during grand-jury testimony for the Monica Lewinsky investigation. “I’ve never heard of defense attorneys doing that. If you’re Mueller, it’s highly unlikely you accept what somebody’s lawyer said, when that somebody is a subject, at the least, of your investigation. . . . . when people are interviewed in a criminal investigation, they don’t get to narrow the topic.”
The chances are actually stronger that the maneuver will backfire, helping Mueller refine not just any questioning of the president but the investigation as a whole. “Mueller is learning a lot by letting this little passion play over Trump and the interview proceed,” says Joyce Vance, a former U.S. attorney for Alabama.
Negotiations will continue, and will likely grow more complicated with the addition of a new lawyer on the Trump side, Joe diGenova, who has suggested that the F.B.I. set out to frame Trump. Attorneys familiar with Mueller or his current team increasingly wager that this protracted dance over presidential testimony ends up in court—that Trump will eventually refuse to talk to the special counsel and that Mueller will subpoena him to appear. “I think Trump will chicken out, and his lawyers will dissuade him from talking because he’s not capable of doing the homework and staying on track,” . . . his side has all kinds of issues. They don’t know what Michael Flynn has told the government. They don’t know exactly what James Comey and Andrew McCabe have said, what Rick Gates has overheard. Normally you tell your client, ‘Just tell the truth.’ But the truth could be really bad for Trump.”
[I]f Mueller wants to question Trump, he has little incentive to cede ground on the scope. “There’s no reason to negotiate your ability to ask questions for the simple reason you can issue a subpoena and the defendant has to submit to any and all questions you want to ask,” . . . You want to ask the president in person what he knew, and eyeball his appearance of truthfulness when he responds. If an interview matters to Mueller, he gets his interview, whether voluntarily or under the compulsion of a subpoena.”
The courts would be likely to expedite hearings, with the case reaching the Supreme Court probably inside of two months after Mueller files to compel Trump’s cooperation. Two things could short-circuit that scenario, however: Trump fires Mueller, setting off a different, explosive legal and political battle. The second possibility? Mueller doesn’t even ask for Trump’s testimony, because he’s made the president a target of the probe, rather than just a subject, as was Bill Clinton in the Ken Starr investigation.
If the special counsel doesn’t subpoena Trump, that might be a signal right there that Mueller thinks he’s got sufficient evidence and that they view Trump as a target.” The months-long buildup toward a melodramatic face-to-face confrontation between Trump and Mueller would vanish. But the second act curtain would fall with a compelling twist.
Over my 40+ years as an attorney, other than non-payment of fees, every time I have fired a client it was because I caught them lying to me. Nothing is worth disbarment or, worse yet, facing criminal prosecution.  I cannot help but question the judgment of the members of Trump's legal team. Trump has a documented history of lying about just about everything.  He could well take them down with him.  

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