December 20th, 2018

Trump and the Presidential Veto

Photo credit Evan Vucci / AP

[Cross-posted from Above the Law]

On Thursday morning Donald Trump threatened to veto all legislation over his wall. No such Trump veto will happen. Ever. On any bill.

I don’t get into the realm of political punditry often as it’s not what I do — I usually confine political comments to those issues that deal with tort “reform” — but today we make an exception because this goes, in essence, to all bills sent to the president.

We start this short analysis with the observation that Trump hasn’t vetoed a single bill. He’s the first president since James Garfield to act that way, and Garfield was only in office six and a half months before being shot dead.

Before that was Millard Fillmore who left office in 1853, who also served a partial term as he took office upon the death of Zachary Taylor. Taylor didn’t veto anything, but was in office only 16 months. Before that was William Henry Harrison, who died a month into office.

The last president to go a full term without a veto? John Quincy Adams, our sixth president who left office in 1829.

And a few more simple observations: First, Trump loves signing things and makes a big show of displaying his signature, even for executive orders.

Second, he campaigned as a “deal maker.” It matters not one whit if you agree or not, or think he’s good or not. This is the persona he wants the world to believe.

And now, with the House of Representative turning to Democratic control, any bill that passes both the House and Senate that is in any way contentious will be the result of bipartisan compromise. A deal.

So if Congress passes a bill — even one that’s a complete anathema to his other policies — he will sign it and claim “credit.” Even if he had nothing to do with its negotiation.

Envision, for a moment, a bipartisan compromise bill on immigration. Imagine it chock full of things Trump claims to hate and campaigned against.

Will he sign it? No, the contents of the bill don’t matter. Because more important than the contents is that he would be able to claim “credit” for something, even if he campaigned against it. ‘Look at me, the deal maker.’

Will Trump supporters have a feeling of betrayal — one of the most powerful human emotions? Possibly. But that’s a column for another day. Trump’s first instinct has always been to look inward as to what was good for him today.

Why write about this now? Because every so often you will see Republican Senators claim that they won’t pass a bill because the president won’t sign it. Don’t believe it. It’s a diversion.

Trump will sign anything.

 

December 10th, 2018

When you don’t have the facts…

Rudy Giuliani

Most folks are familiar with the old Carl Sandburg quote, “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

There’s much truth to that, because if we have something important to say on facts or law, any competent lawyer will put that up front.

This idea came home to roost on Friday when Rudy Giuliani spoke on behalf of Donald Trump. Or at least he tweeted, which apparently is good enough for legal representation these days.

The tweet came on the heels of Trump claiming he answered the questions of Special Prosecutor Robert Muller “very easily.

But Giuliani went off message as he completely contradicted his client, saying: “Answering those questions was a nightmare. It took him about three weeks to do what would normally take two days.” 

So what to do? Well, this is where the Sandburg quote comes in…notice how this Giuliani tweet is utterly devoid of facts and law on the issue at hand…

Some in the media are distorting my statement that answering the questions was a nightmare. That is because as President he was interrupted so often with critical and more important matters. It illustrates why Mueller should end this now and media should be fair.

Giuliani starts in one place, trying to reconcile his comment with his client’s. But then goes wildly off course, in the space of one measly tweet, and Mr. Law and Order asks for immunity.

Now lawyers see similar stuff all the time in legal arguments. Lawyer 1 says the evidence shows red light, and Lawyer 2 argues that his client’s pants are purple.  

Lawyers aren’t fooled. We know distraction when we see it, and the job of Lawyer 1 is to make sure that the judge sees that Lawyer 2 never addressed the issue. The only thing the purple pants arguing  lawyer did was destroy his own credibility on the next issue, whatever the next issue may be.

Here, the issue was whether Trump was answering the questions and Giuliani simply makes an argument that presidents are busy, so Mueller should stop asking questions.

The nonsense from Giuliani didn’t stop there, however, as he continued with another inane tweet of defense, this time to the campaign finance laws he appears to have broken. The best Giuliani could do was claim that because John Edwards wasn’t convicted for a payment to cover up an affair/child, that Trump is innocent.

It’s as if Giuliani said that because one bank robbery defendant was found not guilty all must be. As if all factual scenarios are the same. Here’s the humdinger of a tweet:

The President is not implicated in campaign finance violations because based on Edwards case and others the payments are not campaign contributions. No responsible prosecutor would premise a criminal case on a questionable interpretation of the law.

Sometimes, the things to look for are not the distortion of facts in a case but the distractions of opposing counsel. Trump does this all the time, of course. You can ask him about campaign contribution violations and he’ll answer something having to do with Hillary Clinton.

But when lawyers do it, it really brings home the point that there’s trouble in the house and the lawyers don’t have the tools to deal with it.

 

February 14th, 2018

Trump’s Lawyer, the Porn Actress, the 130G Payoff and Attorney Ethics

Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels)

Yesterday news broke that longtime Donald Trump attorney, Michael D. Cohen, was responsible for paying $130,000 to porn actress Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) on behalf of Trump in 2016, before the election.

“In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford,” Michael Cohen said in a statement. “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly.”

When the underlying stories of they payoff started in January, many folks immediately started looking to see if such a payment violated campaign finance laws. And indeed, that is what most of his statement addressed yesterday.

But I’m looking at the New York Rules of Professional Conduct. Those of us in the personal injury bar know, for example, that advancing funds to clients is a big fat no-no. Does the same provision apply here?

The relevant rule reads as follows:

RULE 1.8:

CURRENT CLIENTS:
SPECIFIC CONFLICT OF INTEREST RULES

(e) While representing a client in connection with contemplated or pending litigation, a lawyer shall not advance or guarantee financial assistance to the client…

OK, you see that ellipses and you want to know what comes after, right? There are three exceptions, each of which invite an investigation to see if they apply:

(1) the transaction is fair and reasonable to the client and the terms of the transaction are fully disclosed and transmitted in writing in a manner that can be reasonably understood by the client;

(2) the client is advised in writing of the desirability of seeking, and is given a reasonable opportunity to seek, the advice of independent legal counsel on the transaction; and

(3) the client gives informed consent, in a writing signed by the client, to the essential terms of the transaction and the lawyer’s role in the transaction, including whether the lawyer is representing the client in the transaction.

The full statement is below and you can decide for yourself if you think it looks like an advance or guarantee of financial assistance (not because Trump needs it, but to hide it). (Edit: Whether there was litigation involved — matrimonial or contract? — is impossible for us to know from here.) Another problem may be that, from Trump’s perspective, this isn’t a transaction if he claims not to be repaying the money.

At the very least, it seems that Cohen has invited an investigation from the Disciplinary Committee. I’ve long said that Trump is a one-man bar exam with never-ending legal issues unlike any other person. That pattern continues today.

The statement:


 

 

May 25th, 2017

Some Advice for Trump’s New Lawyer

Marc Kasowitz

As the rapidly burgeoning #TrumpRussia scandal moves forward, with evidence piling up that Trump is trying to obstruct congressional investigations into collusion between his campaign and Russia, Donald Trump has picked some personal counsel.

Trump, of course, has picked many attorneys before, he being involved in over 3,500 lawsuits. And today’s “winner” of the competition for the job is Marc Kasowitz, of Kasowitz Benson Torres.

This is the same firm that employs former Senator Joseph Lieberman, who was rumored to be in line to be FBI chief. Whether it was an obvious conflict of interest to keep considering Lieberman, or Lieberman thought the 10-year gig might not actually provide the job security it once did, nobody has (yet) leaked.

But rather than go down that rabbit hole, I wanted to focus on this tidbit from one of Trump’s former  lawyers, Patrick “Paddy” McGahn. Mcgann had represented Trump many,  many times, and testified when Trump’s Taj Mahal casino went belly-up.

If the McGahn name sounds familiar, it’s because his nephew Donald McGahn is now White House Counsel. That’s another Trumpian rabbit hole I’ll try to avoid.

No, the place I’m going is this little piece of deposition testimony from Paddy McGahn over the Taj bankruptcy proceedings: It seems that the lawyers decided they could never meet with Trump one-on-one. The rule was that there always had to be a second lawyer in the room.

Why a second lawyer? To run up the bills? Hell no, to protect themselves.

Trump, Paddy McGahn testified, always had a practice of having two lawyers present when meeting with Trump to avoid problems with his lying. He and another attorney would meet together with Trump because “Donald says certain things and then has a lack of memory.”

So the lesson for Kasowitz is this: Make damn sure there are no one-on-one meetings with Trump. Record anything that can be recorded and have someone take explicit notes while it happens.

This is the only way to protect yourself when making representations about Trump, as he has a penchant for tweeting or saying something completely opposite later on. It’s a a habit.

#ProtectYourReputation

 

 

May 10th, 2017

TrumpRussia, the Watergate Sketches, and You

Jurors listen to the Watergate tapes. Sketch by John Hart.

The sketches hang in my office as souvenirs from a trial long ago. I represented the estate of the courtroom sketch artist in a medical malpractice trial, and a grateful widow sold them to me when the trial was over.

Watergate. The scandal by which all others are measured, as the ubiquitous -gate suffix was tagged to anything and everything that it could be tagged to.

The scandal stood for, above all else, obstruction of justice and abuse of power. As everyone knows (or should know) it wasn’t the “third-rate burglary” that sent Nixon packing. It was the cover-up.

I look at the sketches every day.

H.R. Haldeman, White House Chief of Staff, on the witness stand. Judge John Sirica behind him. Sketch by John Hart.

And now, with FBI Director James Comey being fired amidst an investigation he was conducting into the TrumpRussia scandal — no need for the -gate suffix here — Watergate is on everyone’s mind.

For it was Nixon that gave the order to ax special prosecutor Archibald Cox who was doing the investigation. And when the attorney general and deputy attorney general both refused, and resigned in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre, the job fell to future judge Robert Bork.

No one in the Trump White House, it seems, could foresee that a president firing the guy that was investigating his own administration regarding Russia’s meddling in our election, and possible collusion, might be a problem.

But while Trump can fire Comey, and Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, and Preet Bharara, all of whom were investigating him — he can’t fire everyone. Because not everyone works for him.

Prosecutor James Neal talking to the jury. Judge John Sirica in the background. Sketch by John Hart.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is investigating Trump. And Schneiderman is beyond Trump’s reach.

The tell for if/when Schneiderman is getting close to something will be when Trump starts tweeting about him.

Ultimately, however, the Constitution charges we the people with the task of removal. And if not by an unwilling Congress, then by a change of the Congress the next election day.

One way or another the republic will survive this. We can only hope that there are no improvident actions in the interim that cost people lives.