By Jerry Adler
Lawyers were very much on Donald Trump’s mind early Sunday morning, as he fired off a couple of tweets ostensibly about his defense in the Russia probe, but with a clear subtext about the profession in general, stopping just short of calling them all crooks who intentionally run up their bills:
Trump’s defense team has been in turmoil recently, with the resignation of John Dowd, his lead lawyer in the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller of possible collusion between the president’s 2016 campaign organization and agents for Russia. Joseph diGenova, a frequent commentator on Fox News and a fierce defender of Trump, had been recruited to join the president’s defense team, but he was gone before he even started, along with his wife and law partner, Victoria Toensing. “The president is disappointed that conflicts prevent Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing from joining the president’s special counsel legal team,” Trump’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said in a statement on Sunday morning, as reported in the New York Times. “However, those conflicts do not prevent them from assisting the president in other legal matters. The president looks forward to working with them.”
Trump’s observation that “Fame & fortune will NEVER be turned down by a lawyer” seemed intended to rebut stories that he is having trouble hiring top-flight legal talent. Yahoo News reported that at least four top law firms turned down Trump as a client last year. The New York Times said on Thursday that the president “tried last summer to hire some of Washington’s top lawyers to represent him. But many shied away, aware of the president’s history of ignoring his lawyers’ advice and frequent failure to pay his legal bills.”
But his remark about legal bills was an obviously heartfelt complaint by someone who has paid more than his share of them over the years. The going rate for top-tier Washington and corporate lawyers was $2,000 an hour in 2016, and, yes, you do have to pay them for the time it takes to get “up to speed” on your case.
Obviously Trump is frustrated by the ongoing special counsel investigation, since he ends every tweet on the subject with the catchphrase NO COLLUSION. But it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that there was another legal matter on his mind, hours before “60 Minutes” is expected to air its interview with the actress Stormy Daniels, who reportedly plans to discuss her affair with Trump and the efforts to silence her. That is according to her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, who spent a half-hour last week arguing on CNN with David Schwartz, the lawyer for Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Cohen says he paid Daniels $130,000 as part of a nondisclosure agreement that prevents her from speaking about her relationship with Trump.
It is not known how much all these lawyers are being paid.