The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Are Trump’s lawyers selling him a bill of goods, or is he not listening?

With White House Counsel Donald McGahn's departure, President Trump's large and ever-changing legal team is thrown into turmoil once again. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

President Trump is so unwilling to accept reality, and his advisers, even his lawyers, may be afraid of telling him the truth. Either Trump misunderstood what they’ve told him or his lawyers are making stuff up to pacify him:

  • Ty Cobb said the special counsel investigation would be over last Thanksgiving. Then by the end of the year.
  • Rudolph W. Giuliani tells him he’s going to get the Russia investigation to wrap up in the next week or so.
  • One of his lawyers seems to have told Trump he’s in no danger if he is not a “target” of the investigation.
  • Trump seems to think everything in Michael Cohen’s office and whatever they talked about fall into the category of attorney-client privilege.
  • Trump’s lawyers act like it is their decision whether Trump will have to give testimony to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

These are false, in fact so preposterous that non-lawyers can tell they are nonsense. You don’t need to have gone to law school to know:

  • No one has any idea when the Russia probe will end. Trump could fire Mueller, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the investigation would go on.
  • Giuliani hasn’t practiced law in decades, has no ability to influence Mueller and isn’t all that helpful with respect to the Southern District of New York, where he ended his stint as U.S. attorney in January 1989.
  • Trump might be a subject of the Russia investigation now, but Mueller can decide he is a target at any time really.
  • “Fixing” isn’t covered by the attorney-client privilege, and plotting crimes with your attorney isn’t covered either. Most of what Cohen did does not seem to be legal work.
  • Trump can be subpoenaed by the grand jury if he refuses to make himself available for an interview. A court would almost certainly enforce it.

If Trump is buying the hooey he’s being fed, he’s really much dimmer than his supporters thought. And here’s some more bad news his lawyers might not have told him (or if they did, he chooses to forget):

  • James B. Comey’s memos don’t exonerate Trump. They provide contemporaneous, highly detailed confirmation of his efforts to obstruct the investigation. Oh, and plotting to fire Mueller and then Rosenstein to get rid of the investigation evidences a corrupt intent. Based on information that is already publicly known, there are likely sufficient facts to make a case for obstruction.
  • We already know about collusion — the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower with Russian associates. Moreover, Paul Manafort may, according to  prosecutors, have been the vital link between the campaign and Kremlin. No one and no document has exonerated Trump of collusion.
  • The dossier has not been discredited. Some portion of it, according to Comey and others, was corroborated.
  • If Trump fires Mueller and/or Rosenstein, there very likely will be mass protests, extreme pressure on the House to impeach and a batch of resignations at the Justice Department. Trump’s presidency would effectively be over. (By the way, because Sessions was so worried about Trump firing Rosenstein that he had to suggest he’d quit in protest, Republican lawmakers are flat wrong when they say there’s no chance Trump will fire Mueller or Rosenstein.)
  • Trump may get subpoenaed in any number of civil cases (e.g., Summer Zervos’s defamation case, Stormy Daniels’s defamation case).

The last point is no small matter. Even the Democratic National Committee’s lawsuit against Russia’s intelligence outfit (GRU), WikiLeaks, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., Roger Stone, the Trump campaign and others for conspiracy can force Trump and members of his inner circle to turn over documents and sit for depositions where they will have to testify under oath.

“This lawsuit is well-grounded jurisdictionally and legally, dodges the difficulties that might’ve been triggered by naming Trump personally, and puts a high-powered piece on the 4-dimensional chessboard that can cause Trump’s circle endless trouble (through discovery and otherwise) after criminal proceedings have been completed and regardless of what happens on the impeachment front,” says constitutional scholar and Supreme Court advocate Laurence H. Tribe (a real lawyer).  It can also “provide a potent platform for educating the public about the ugly details of how this presidency arose from a swamp far dirtier than the one Trump promised to drain.”

Trump should get lawyers brave and persistent enough to tell him the truth. Maybe they have and he refuses to believe them or believes only what he wants. Either way, he cannot escape legal troubles by wishing them away — no matter how many times Sean Hannity tells him that he’s in no legal peril.