President Donald Trump and his son-law and other key members of his administration have lately been hiring personal legal counsel, which is well-advised and by no means implies anything nefarious, but we find their choices of attorneys rather eyebrow-raising. The lawyers often turn out to be some of the most intriguing characters in these long-running television dramas, and in this case no mere screenwriter could have come up with anything quite so colorful.
What Trump calls “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia,” thus far one of the main plot lines of the show, has reached the point that a House committee and Senate committee and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a Special Counsel are looking into it, and although Trump plausibly dismisses it all as “fake news” he’s nonetheless wisely lawyered up. Throughout his long and now-legendary career in the private sector Trump has frequently been required to hire legal representation, and in his current predicament he’s once again turned to the same lawyers and the same bare-knuckle legal tactics he’s relied on in the past.
In his early days as a proudly bare-knuckle real estate developer Trump relied on the legal talents of Roy Cohn
, one of the more colorful characters in countless American lawyer shows. Cohn first gained fame way back in the ’50s as the take-no-prisoners adviser to Sen. Joe McCarthy, urging on an often reckless anti-Communist crusade that ended with that widely-watched “Have you no shame?” moment on national television after a baseless claim of treason against some sympathetic low-level government employee, and he stayed in the papers by representing New York mafioso and the owners of the cocaine-and-sex-orgy Studio 54 nightclub and any other high-profile clients who needed his famously aggressive legal tactics. He also represented Trump and his real-estate mogul father in their fight against a Justice Department allegation that they’d discriminated against their black and Latino tenants
, along with some other more middling matters about their businesses, and Trump has often spoken kindly of his tough guy style. That same approach eventually got Cohn disbarred when he started harassing some obnoxiously rich but otherwise innocent pillar of New York City society with his usual blizzard of threatening letters, and not long after the outspokenly anti-homosexual lawyer who’d had numerous suspected homosexuals kicked out of the military back in the McCarthy days died in 1988 at the age of 59 from complications of AIDS, most likely a result of one of his frequent sexual encounters with men, but in his most recent comments about the man Trump still praised his style.
Since Cohn’s disbarment and ultimate demise Trump has mostly relied on the advice of Michael Cohen and Marc Kasowitz, both of whom are known in New York legal circles for their similarly tough guy approach to the law.
Kasowitz was graduated from Yale but had to settle for a law degree from Cornell University, then made his fame and started his fortune by defending the major tobacco companies from all the lawsuits that business entailed, and he wound up with Trump as a very lucrative client
. He represented Trump in one of his two divorces and all the complicated bankruptcy proceedings regarding his failed casinos and a fraud suit against Trump University, along with hundreds of claims of unpaid bills, and he sent some harassing letters to the women who publicly claimed during the past presidential campaign that Trump had sexually harassed them, and we’d guess he’s billed his usual $1,500-an-hour-advice on countless other matters. Trump came out of the divorce with a still-sizable fortune and a glamorous nudie model third wife, and while his investors lost collective billions in those casinos he came out millions ahead, and they settled that Trump University lawsuit for a mere $25 million to plaintiffs and surprisingly few headlines, and despite all those other matters he’s the president, so despite Kasowitz’ lack of Washington experience we can see why Trump trusts his attorney’s advice.
Still, he seems an odd choice to deal with this Russia thing with Trump and Russia. It’s not just that Kasowitz provides an excuse for every snarky journalist to once again mention Trump’s two divorces and more numerous bankruptcies and scam university schemes and all those unpaid bills and countless other matters in his now-legendary private sector career, but that he’s also got his own Russian ties. His law firm of Kasowitz, Benson and Torres — which was Kasowitz, Benson, Torres and Friedman until until the bankruptcy-specialist Friedman left to become Trump’s ambassador to Israel — also represents a Russian bank, OJSC Sberbank, and a Russian billionaire with the same predictable ties to the Kremlin.
Cohen, a former executive vice president of the Trump Organization and famously combative spokesman for the Trump campaign and administration, is also on the job of defending Trump in this Russia thing with Trump and Russia, but he’s also got his own legal problems about that
. The House and Senate committees have both asked him about his contacts with the Kremlin , and so far he’s refusing to provide the requested information. None of this proves anything, we’ll readily agree, but Trump and his most hopeful supporters should admit that it doesn’t look good.
Meanwhile, the president’s son-in-law has lawyered up with Jamie Gorelick, which is possibly the weirdest plot twist yet. Jared Kushner, the bare-knuckle real estate mogul husband of Trump’s most beloved daughter and his pick to negotiate Middle East peace and reinvent the federal government and deal with China and end the opioid crisis in America is also reported to have been in meetings with Russian banks
and is reportedly a “person of interest” in that Russia thing with Trump and Russia, so one can hardly blame him for picking a well-connected Washington insider such as Gorelick to guide him through it. The eminently well-connected-to-the-Democrats Gorelick, though, seems an odd choice.
She really should be at least as infamous as Roy Cohn, as far we’re concerned. Her first mention in the papers came as a deputy attorney general appointed by President Bill Clinton when she was “field commander” in the botched raid on some religious nuts in Waco, Texas, which left 20 children and 60 adults dead, and which earned her a promotion to a higher post where she implemented the “wall” between domestic and foreign intelligence agencies. We’ll assume she had the best intention of protecting citizens from intrusive surveillance, but as predicted the policy also kept the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency from sharing the information that could have prevented the terror attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., in 2001. For that she was rewarded with control of the Federal National Mortgage Association, where she stubbornly and successfully resisted President George W. Bush’s proposed reforms to a crazy Clinton-era sub-prime mortgage scheme that led to the financial meltdown of 2008.
There’s no denying she’s a well-connected D.C. lawyer and a ruthlessly tough survivor of some vicious fights, and she came out a reported $25 million ahead after that still-ongoing 2008 recession, so we can well understand why Trump’s son-in-law, whose own bare-knuckle real estate mogul father did some federal time on illegal campaign contribution and witness-tampering charges, might turn to her. She’ll no doubt be a fierce defender in whatever court of law Kushner might find himself in, where those Democratic connections might well prove useful, but we don’t expect she’ll be a very popular character in either the cheering or jeering sections of the court of public opinion.
Once again we’ll stipulate that none of this proves anything, and that we have no idea what the next plot twist will bring, but we can’t shake an unpleasant feeling about where this heading.
— Bud Norman