Presidents have always attracted top legal talent — until now

Former United States Solicitor General Ted Olson, (center), speaks with former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, (right), before an installation ceremony for FBI Director Chris Wray at the FBI Building, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, in Washington. (Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

Former United States Solicitor General Ted Olson, (center), speaks with former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, (right), before an installation ceremony for FBI Director Chris Wray at the FBI Building, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, in Washington. (Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

HELP WANTED! Seeking great lawyers, the best lawyers, to Make America Great Again by helping the most loved president in history win his fight against a Fake News Russia hoax scandal. NO COLLUSION! Work hard for a tough smart client who will always tell you the truth and promptly pay your billable hours. Take advantage RIGHT NOW of this incredible offer because the lawyer applications are flooding in, believe me. NO COLLUSION! MAGA! ROSEANNE!

Trump might as well post that ad on Craigslist, because nothing else seems to be working.

Is there anything more pathetic than a President of the United States who can’t recruit top legal talent? In normal times, a high-powered attorney typically deems it the highest honor to serve the highest official in the land; it’s a feather in the cap, icing on the resume. But nobody with stellar creds wants to risk their careers by serving a scandal-ridden, mendaciously abnormal client who soils whoever he touches.

As Robert Mueller creeps ever closer to the inner sanctum — the latest news, in court filings, is that Trump’s deputy campaign manager was knowingly in contact, during the ’16 race, with a trained Russian intelligence officer — it’s abundantly clear that Trump needs seasoned criminal defense lawyers. He, of course, has convinced himself that recruiting such a team is a slam dunk. As he tweeted on March 25, “Many lawyers and top firms want to represent me in the Russia case…don’t believe the Fake News narrative that it is hard to find a lawyer who wants to take this on.”

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Naturally, he was lying. What follows is merely a partial list of the top lawyers and top firms in Washington and New York that have told Trump to take a hike:

  • Dan Webb and Tom Buchanan of the firm Winston & Strawn
  • Bob Giuffra of the firm Sullivan & Cromwell
  • Robert Bennett, best known for defending Bill Clinton in the Paula Jones case
  • Reid Weingarten and all his colleagues in the firm Steptoe & Wilson (its chairman, Philip West, said this week that “with a figure as polarizing as the president, it makes the decision about whether to represent him a difficult one”)
  • Everyone in the firm Kirkland & Ellis
  • William Burck, who’s already busy representing ex-Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus and White House counsel Donald McGahn (both of whom could wind up being Mueller witnesses)
  • The husband-and-wife team of Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing (who were actually hired last week, then bailed after two days, reportedly because they didn’t have “chemistry” with Trump, or vice versa)
  • And former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson of the firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher

Some of these attorneys have begged off by citing “conflicts.” That’s certainly the most diplomatic way to say no. It also happens to be true, as evidenced by Burck’s client roster, that virtually everyone around Trump needs to be lawyered up. But there are many urgent reasons for saying no, and they all trace back to Trump himself. Many of these law firms represent clients who rightly detest Trump; many of these law firms employ female attorneys who don’t want to work with anyone who defends Trump.

Most importantly: No highly credentialed, well-wired lawyer with skin in Washington wants to work for a guy who doesn’t heed advice, lies as he breathes, and doesn’t pay his bills.

The best lawyers are well aware that one of their brethren, John Dowd, bailed on Trump earlier this month because he was fed up with Trump’s willful deafness. As Ted Boutrous, one of the partners at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, said earlier this week, Trump is a “notoriously difficult client who disregards the advice of his lawyers and asks them to engage in questionable activities.”

He didn’t define “questionable activities.” But Trump’s attempted 2017 firing of Mueller, an order that was blocked by White House counsel McGahn, would certainly qualify. No lawyer wants to defend a deeply corrupt White House and risk being subpoenaed by Muller to appear in front of a grand jury. Imagine having that on your resume.

Indeed, Ted Olson, who was famously one of Bill Clinton’s most dogged legal antagonists during the ’90s, said this week that the Trump vibe is toxic for lawyers: “I think everybody would agree, this is turmoil, it’s chaos, it’s confusion, it’s not good for anything … This (White House) seems to be beyond normal.” And when a reporter asked him whether he knew of any lawyers who want to work for Trump, he replied, “Not at all.”

So who’s left on the Trump team to deal with Mueller and the legal eagles flying with Mueller?

Dowd is gone, Marc Kasowitz dropped off the team months ago, Michael Cohen is busy screwing up the Stormy case, team spokesman Mark Corallo quit last year because, according to a close friend, he could no longer tolerate the job “on a moral and professional level,” and although Ty Cobb is still on board, he could be on the outs with Trump for having counseled cooperation with Mueller. So that leaves Jay Sekulow.

And Jay Sekulow is basically a TV talking head, an advocate for the Christian right who’s lawyering experience is limited to “religious freedom” cases. To put it charitably, he’s not well-schooled in the nuances of criminal defense. Sekulow is reportedly getting outside advice from a former Georgia prosecutor who has a doctorate in medieval history, but somehow this news fails to confirm Trump’s boast that big shots are jonesing to defend him.

On the other hand, given his desperate cry for help and his notorious sensibility, medieval advice sounds about right.

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