Donald Trump’s Legal Team is in total disorder

Donald Trump
Courtesy: Forbes

Attorney Timothy Parlatore has announced his resignation from Donald Trump’s legal team, adding to the former president’s mounting legal problems. Parlatore claimed he was forced to resign because he couldn’t work with co-counsel Boris Epshteyn. Epshteyn “did everything he could to try to block us” from speaking with Trump, according to Parlatore, and was “not very honest with the client.”

Why Mr. Epshteyn, a longtime Trump aide, former corporate lawyer, and political commentator with no apparent criminal defense experience, is leading Team Trump in multiple massive white-collar criminal investigations remains a mystery, though the Parlatore quote suggests that it is because he tells Trump what he wants to hear.

Parlatore’s departure follows that of Evan Corcoran, a Trump lawyer who resigned from the Mar-a-Lago investigation after being forced to testify against his client in the classified documents case in front of a grand jury. Despite resigning from the Mar-a-Lago probe, Corcoran will continue to represent the former president in other investigations.

While Parlatore was also compelled to testify before the grand jury, he apparently saw no ethical or practical reason to continue working for Trump until Epshteyn irritated him enough to force his departure. Both Parlatore and Corcoran are wrong. As a white-collar criminal defense attorney for the past four decades, I cannot understand how any attorney who has testified in a grand jury investigation of a client can continue to represent that client.

Attorneys for the Justice Department did not subpoena Parlatore and Corcoran after randomly selecting their names from the phone book. They were summoned because the DOJ must have had substantial evidence implicating them in their client’s criminal conduct. Otherwise, it would be impossible to successfully litigate the matter over many months to violate the attorney-client privilege under the “crime-fraud” exception.

Unless the DOJ and the judges who upheld the use of the “crime-fraud” exception are completely wrong, there are only two possible outcomes: The attorney becomes a witness against the client or is indicted as his co-conspirator. When a lawyer who has been subpoenaed fails to do everything legally possible to avoid having to testify, the attorney-client relationship must be terminated.

The overall takeaway from Parlatore’s departure is that Team Trump is now Team Turmoil. Along with Corcoran and Parlatore, one can expect Joe Tacopina, Trump’s attorney in the E. Jean Carroll civil assault litigation, to leave soon, albeit not voluntarily.

It remains to be seen whether any of these three new Trump legal exiles will follow in the footsteps of their previous Team Trump colleagues who abandoned ship in making public, negative analyses of their former client’s defense team and his chances of successfully defending themselves, such as former top Trump White House lawyer Ty Cobb, who predicted that his former client “will go to jail.”

In addition to this severe personal limitation, there have been a number of predictably poor tactical decisions, such as recommending Eastern District of New York Judge Raymond Dearie as the Mar-a-Lago Special Master and the problematic appointment of Joe Tacopina as lead counsel in the Carroll case. Dearie, as Special Master, gave the DOJ almost everything it wanted while giving Team Trump nothing but well-deserved criticism. Tacopina’s bombastic performance as a lead defense lawyer in the disastrous Carroll trial was roundly criticized by the media and by his client after the verdict.

While they manifest in various ways, all of these impediments to the former president’s ability to defend himself stem from the same source: Donald Trump. When dealing with difficult clients, my former law partner Ken Kaplan and I used to say, “You can often protect a client from the government, but you can never protect him from himself.” With this in mind, we can certainly expect more self-inflicted wounds to emerge as the investigations conclude and the pressure on the former president increases.

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