The Slatest

A Guide to the Many Lawyers Who Have Been Trying to Prevent Trump From Inducing His Own Downfall

The West Wing of the White House sits empty on May 15, 2017.
The West Wing of the White House on May 15.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

So many Donald Trump lawyers in the news! What’s the deal? What do they all do? Let’s run it down.

John Dowd. Dowd has been a prominent white-collar defense attorney for decades. He was Trump’s lead personal lawyer for Russia and Mueller issues, but he quit last week.

Jay Sekulow and friends. An experienced appellate litigator who has argued numerous cases before the Supreme Court on behalf of conservative causes, Sekulow is also a known hustler whose side gigs include radio hosting and running nonprofit organizations that pay him and his family members huge salaries. He represents Trump on Russia and Mueller matters as well. It seems his main role is as a spokesman and media surrogate, though the Daily Beast and Politico have reported that four attorneys who’ve been involved in Sekulow’s activist work are helping him on the Trump case, which could suggest more substantive contributions, though only one of the four appears to have a background in criminal work.

Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing. White-collar defense attorneys and former federal prosecutors who are married and own a firm together. Sekulow announced March 19 that diGenova had been hired to become part of Trump’s Mueller defense team, perhaps because POTUS saw him on Fox News claiming that the entire Russia investigation is a frame-up, and Toensing was reportedly set to come on board as well. But this weekend Sekulow backtracked, explaining that diGenova and Toensing would not be able to work on the Russia case because of the potential conflicts of interest created by their firm’s past work representing other Mueller witnesses. CNN adds, for what it’s worth, that its sources say “the President … was not convinced [diGenova and Toensing] are right for the legal jobs” and that diGenova was hired “to engage with the media,” so it’s not clear how much nuts-and-bolts work they would have actually ended up doing anyway.

Ty Cobb. Cobb is also a veteran white-collar defense lawyer who’s working exclusively on the Mueller case. He’s employed by the White House, though, rather than Trump personally, which means his professional obligation is to defend the legal prerogatives of the executive branch rather than to worry about Trump’s potential criminal liability as an individual. (Recall that the Mueller investigation concerns a number of events that took place before Trump was inaugurated.) Cobb also appears to be handling the responses of other White House staffers to Mueller’s inquiries.

Don McGahn. He’s the head of the White House Counsel’s Office, so his orientation is the same as Cobb’s, but he doesn’t work exclusively on Mueller issues because he’s also responsible for jobs like reviewing legislation and overseeing the nomination of judges. McGahn reportedly talked Trump out of firing Mueller in June.

Marc Kasowitz. Kasowitz was Trump’s lead lawyer on Mueller matters but was demoted after being caught calling a random (male) stranger a “bitch” in a threatening late-night email. He still represents Trump in the suit brought by Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos, who accused Trump of sexually assaulting her and then sued for defamation when Trump said that she (and the rest of his accusers) were fabricating their stories. There have been reports that Kasowitz is in line to resume his role in the Mueller case now that Dowd is gone; as Ian Millhiser notes, though, Kasowitz’s career has largely involved corporate financial litigation, not criminal defense.

Michael Cohen. The longtime top legal figure at the Trump Organization, Cohen has been in the news recently for his role in litigation involving Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who say they had sexual affairs with Trump while he was married to Melania Trump. Daniels said on 60 Minutes Sunday that she was threatened physically in 2011 by an individual who told her not to make her alleged affair with Trump public; she and her new lawyer also say that she felt “intimidated” by Cohen into signing recent statements recanting her past claims to the affair. (Cohen denies ever threatening Daniels or employing anyone to do so.) A similar accusation has been made by McDougal, a former Playboy model who says Cohen collaborated with her former lawyer to convince her to sign a nondisclosure agreement under false pretenses.

• Jill Martin. A Trump Organization lawyer whose name appears on paperwork related to the Daniels case, which is noteworthy because Cohen has claimed that “neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford.”

Donald Trump is surrounded by an impressive number of attorneys whose jobs consist largely of defending him from the consequences of reckless personal and professional activities that date back more than a decade. He nonetheless regularly still behaves in ways that put him at further legal risk. His attempt to hire diGenova on the basis of bombastic Fox News appearances, and his apparent endorsement of Cohen’s aggressive legal response to Stormy Daniels, suggest moreover that Trump wants his lawyers to be reckless too. It’s a strategy that has, frankly, worked fine for him so far—he is, after all, the president. Some recent reports say this attitude is making it hard for him to find a top-flight replacement for Dowd; Trump currently doesn’t appear to have a qualified white-collar-crime attorney working for him in a regular capacity despite being the main subject of the highest-profile criminal investigation in the world. Whether this cavalier approach will ever precipitate a comeuppance is, really, the big question not just of Trump’s legal position but of his entire life.