This has left Trump with a relatively small legal team without much experience litigating matters of executive privilege as he prepares for a court battle that could test the key issues of presidential authority.
“It’s not a 10-foot post” for law firms moving away from Trump, “it’s a 1000-foot post,” said John Yoo, professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley who held a senior position in the Justice Department within the George W. Bush administration.
More than a half-dozen prominent lawyers who have played a notable role in defending Trump or his advisers in the past are not helping him this round. These include Jay Sekulow and Ty Cobb, according to sources familiar with Trump’s legal effort.
And at least four well-known lawyers have been repeatedly approached by Trump’s team for help in recent weeks – and said no, a source close to the talks told CNN.
Among the four is William Burck, the white-collar lawyer who represented 11 Trump associates in and after the Mueller investigation. Burck has turned Trump down three times in the past few months, according to people familiar with the former president’s orbit, because he wanted to avoid how toxic Trump’s situation became after the attempt to overturn the election. , people said.
Trump said in a statement that he never asked for help from the four lawyers who turned him down, including Burck. “I don’t even know who they are, they are just looking to advertise,” the ex-president said. “I use lawyers who have been with us from the start.”
“I pay my lawyers when they do a good job,” Trump added.
Indeed, lawyers who worked in the White House or the Trump campaign are still at work for the ex-president and are now focused on smaller tasks, such as handling executive privilege discussions with officials. National Archives or communication with possible ex-White House witnesses called to the Capitol. Hill.
Two former legal advisers – Patrick Philbin from Trump’s White House counsel office and Justin Clark from the 2020 campaign – are still involved.
Clark, for example, signed letters outlining Trump’s concerns over executive privilege to four subpoenaed witnesses.
The toxic client
The three lawyers besides Burck who have rejected Trump’s pleas in recent months, a source said, are Tory heavyweights Charles Cooper, Mark Filip and Paul Clement.
Cooper, a former deputy attorney general with experience in congressional fighting, told CNN he would watch any brawl in court over Trump and executive privilege “from the stands.” He declined to comment further.
Filip, a former acting attorney general, and Clement, a former solicitor general, work at the same elite law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, which represents Trump’s last attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, in Capitol investigations Hill on Jan.6.
Rosen has already spoken for hours at the Senate Judiciary Committee about Trump’s attempts to fire him and call off the 2020 election, making the involvement of his lawyers harder to get – and even less likely. The firm declined to comment.
Disjointed legal effort
In the aftermath of January 6, Trump’s legal approach was structured differently from past investigations, such as the Mueller inquiry and during impeachment in Ukraine, where presidential privilege and litigation czars emerged. In these cases, Trump has used personal attorneys, witness attorneys, the Justice Department, and experts from the White House attorneys office to coordinate.
But the former president no longer has a coordinating lawyer at the head of his team, according to several people familiar with his approach. There is also no senior lawyer who handles messages on behalf of the former president.
Trump’s legal machine has at times been rambling. Several people close to the former president have told CNN in recent days that they are unaware of a broad and cohesive legal strategy ready to respond on his behalf or a litigation heavyweight waiting to be answered. go to court.
Trump’s legal response so far has largely consisted of writing letters to witnesses and responding to a Congressional request to the National Archives, which houses his presidential papers.
To witnesses, Trump’s legal team said he might want to assert executive privilege. The witnesses may have to decide for themselves whether they will comply with the subpoenas they have received or fight them in court, the people said.
This leaves Trump’s team to deal primarily with the National Archives. Former White House lawyer Philbin and Pat Cipollone have also been involved behind the scenes there – but both could be key witnesses to Trump’s actions in the final days of his presidency, complicating the roles they could play into the larger investigation.
However, the couple have already opened an office in Washington, DC of a small California-based litigation law firm with other former Trump administration colleagues, so they will likely continue to respond to some legal needs of the former president.
Legal heavyweights needed
A larger, more experienced company may be needed if the fight against Trump’s executive privilege ends on appeal. Former presidents have used some of Washington’s most elite law firms to help them after the presidency, including the Clintons who have enjoyed a decades-long relationship with their private attorney David Kendall at Williams & Connolly and Ronald Reagan turning to Ted Olson, who had a high-ranking Justice Department experience, for advice when he testified in a 1990 trial related to the Iran-Contra case.
“You would like to see one of the top 10 national law firms with a large, experienced DC office” handling cases that test constitutional questions, such as a former president’s opinion on the confidentiality of his files, Yoo said , the old Bush. administration of justice official. “You don’t see that here. It’s pretty blatant.”
Post-Watergate-era law allows former presidents to have a say in what they want to protect in their presidential records – and to advocate what should be kept confidential if they so choose.
A split has already materialized between what Trump wants and the White House position Biden. Last Friday, Trump’s political organization said it believed more than 40 documents in the hands of the National Archives should be kept confidential. The Biden White House, however, did not object to sending the documents to the House inquiry.
This opens up the possibility of a complex and costly legal fight – which Trump may have to pursue if he disagrees with the National Archives’ approach to his papers. It is possible that the issues he might raise in the courts regarding executive privilege need to be dealt with by the Supreme Court, Yoo said.
CNN’s Paula Reid and Evan Perez contributed to this report.