As expected, Donald Trump has hired his own attorney to represent his interests in the investigations springing from the 2016 campaign. Some will undoubtedly claim that the president has “lawyered up” in response to the appointment of a special counsel into l’affair Russie, but it’s both smart and relatively normal to do so. The choice of attorney could present some other problems for Trump, however:
President Trump has retained the services of a trusted lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz, to help him navigate the investigations into his campaign and suspected Russian interference in last year’s election, according to people familiar with the decision.
Kasowitz, who has known Trump for decades, has represented Trump in numerous cases, including on his divorce records, real estate transactions and allegations of fraud at Trump University. He is a partner at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman in New York.
With the appointment last week of a special counsel to probe alleged Russian meddling in the election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign, the stakes have been raised considerably for the Republican president and his associates. Trump has repeatedly denied that he did anything improper and has said that he has been told he is not under investigation.
If the name Kasowitz Benson sounds familiar, it should. As the Washington Post notes, Marc Kasowitz has had Trump as a client for well over a decade, handling business and other legal affairs for the business tycoon. It’s familiar for another reason too, though, as the current employer of Joe Lieberman as senior counsel. Lieberman emerged as Trump’s explicit front-runner to replace James Comey as FBI Director, a decision that got postponed until after Trump’s first trip abroad, which is about half over now.
This hiring precludes Lieberman from consideration — or at least it should. Questions had already been raised about Lieberman’s potential nomination as someone who worked for Trump’s attorney, as well as his lack of federal law-enforcement or prosecution experience. Now that Trump has picked Lieberman’s current boss as his personal attorney to handle an investigation that involves FBI investigators, even Trump’s Republican allies in the Senate would have trouble explaining the wisdom of putting Lieberman in charge of the FBI. The apparent and potential conflicts of interest are just too obvious to pull that off.
And, sure enough …
Joe Lieberman no longer being considered for FBI director. President's team has hit the restart button on the search for a new FBI Director
— Shimon Prokupecz (@ShimonPro) May 24, 2017
Why does Trump need his own attorney, rather than just relying on White House counsel Don McGahn? The attorney-client privilege is weak with White House counsels, which the Watergate scandal made clear; the White House counsel works for the people first, not the president. If Trump needs effective legal advice, he’d have to seek it out himself. Hiring an attorney isn’t an admission of guilt either, even though “lawyering up” carries that popular connotation. It’s a recognition that effective legal advice is needed, and since this investigation has proceeded to a special counsel, that’s also obvious enough to make this hire unremarkable — and prudent. Don’t read much more into this decision.