When Donald Trump has needed a legal brawler, he has often turned to Marc Kasowitz, a hard-edged Manhattan attorney whose website cites a description of him as one of the most “feared lawyers in the United States.”
Kasowitz fits into the long-running pattern of Trump pursuing confrontational legal strategies and embracing tough allies, including the late attorney Roy Cohn, who Trump said earlier this year “could be a nasty guy” as he helped the businessman’s real estate empire grow in Manhattan.
Last week, when the New York Times wrote about women’s claims of sexual assault by Trump, Kasowitz sent a letter demanding “a full and immediate retraction and apology.”
Two weeks earlier, when the Times released three pages of Trump’s 1995 income tax returns, Kasowitz sent a letter threatening “prompt initiation of appropriate legal action.”
Years before that, Kasowitz helped lead Trump’s losing battle against an author who cited sources claiming Trump was not a billionaire.
“It’s a trench fight with them. It’s just brutal stuff,” said Roddy Boyd, a former New York Post and Fortune reporter who covered Kasowitz’s cases a decade ago. Boyd says he personally was threatened by Kasowitz with a suit over his reporting on two companies the attorney represented. Kasowitz’s firm also subpoenaed Boyd to obtain his hard drive and notes he had taken while reporting on a third company, Boyd said, adding the subpoena was rejected in court in 2011.
Kasowitz did not respond to requests for comment, and Trump was not made available for comment. In 2004, Trump told the magazine the American Lawyer that members of Kasowitz’s law firm were “not good lawyers, they’re phenomenal lawyers.”
Kasowitz is not primarily a First Amendment or media attorney, and his wide-ranging practice has focused mostly on representing banks, insurers and other business clients. The most prominent of Kasowitz’s tussles with the media have been on behalf of Trump.
Alan Garten, general counsel for the Trump Organization, described Kasowitz as a strategic lawyer and Trump’s “go-to guy . . . when really urgent, sensitive, complex issues come up.”
“He’s incredibly smart, very measured . . . (but) that doesn’t mean he’s not tough,” Garten said. “Who doesn’t want a strong litigator?”
The claim that Kasowitz or Trump seeks to intimidate journalists, Garten added, is “the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Mr. Trump is someone who stands up for what he believes in,” he said. “This is not an effort to intimidate. This is an effort to exercise and enforce rights he is entitled to exercise.”
Kasowitz graduated from Yale University and Cornell Law School and, in 1993, founded Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman. The firm now employs hundreds of attorneys, including former Democratic and independent senator Joe Lieberman (Conn.). It has offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Silicon Valley.
A New York Law Journal survey in July of the state’s 100 biggest law firms said the Kasowitz firm saw the state’s sharpest drop in its workforce last year, losing 18 percent of its attorneys, or 51 lawyers, amid a series of layoffs and departures.
It’s unclear why the firm lost so many lawyers so quickly, though the journal survey noted that some firms had reported declining legal demand. Kasowitz told the journal that the firm had taken “smart actions . . . to adapt to an evolving and volatile litigation market.”
Kasowitz and his wife, Lori, have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trump and to Republican committees in recent years, data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows. The couple have also donated thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates, including Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.).
Kasowitz has taken on several high-profile cases, including defending the Liggett Group, one of America’s biggest cigarette conglomerates, in tobacco lawsuits. He also represented the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in a suit that claimed officials had ignored warnings before the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
Kasowitz seems to cherish his hard-edged reputation: His biography on the firm’s website lists media publications that called him an “uberlitigator” and the “toughest lawyer on Wall Street.”
David Brooks, general counsel for one of Kasowitz’s clients, Fortress Investment Group, told the New York Law Journal in 2010, “When there’s a tough, call it rough-and-tumble kind of litigation, those are the guys I would go to.” He added, “They’re not afraid to get their hands dirty.”
Kasowitz has represented Trump for at least 15 years, including during the restructuring of more than $1 billion in debt for Trump’s Atlantic City casinos. The firm also represented Trump when media giants, including the Times, sought to unseal documents from Trump’s 1990 divorce with Ivana Trump. A Manhattan Supreme Court judge rejected that request last month.
Kasowitz also represented Trump during his lawsuit against Timothy L. O’Brien, whose 2005 biography, “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” cited unnamed sources claiming Trump was worth far less than he said publicly.
In 2006, Trump said O’Brien’s “terribly written” book had defamed him, and he demanded $5 billion in damages. Earlier this year, Trump told The Post he had not read the book but filed the suit because he wanted to cost O’Brien, who he called a “low-life sleazebag,” “a lot of money.”
Before the case, Kasowitz appeared at one of the author’s book readings “to tell me, with a grin, that he was a writer, too,” O’Brien wrote in a Bloomberg View column last week.
Recording the reading with a video camera, O’Brien said, representatives of Trump’s legal team also attempted to goad the author into saying something damaging, asking questions such as, “Didn’t you write this book to hurt Trump because you don’t like him?”
Trump sat for a two-day deposition for the case in 2007, during which he made a series of false statements. In connection with the suit, he was also forced to reveal sensitive internal documents like tax returns. A New Jersey appeals court ruled in O’Brien’s favor in 2011.
In the presidential campaign, Trump has said he wants to “open up” libel laws and threatened to sue news reporters and organizations at least 11 times, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. In an interview during the reporting for The Post’s biography, “Trump Revealed,” Trump told The Post: “I will be bringing more libel suits as people — maybe against you folks. I don’t want to threaten, but I find that the press is unbelievably dishonest.”
Trump, however, has not sued a newspaper for libel since 1984, a Reuters review of court records found.
Kasowitz will now be consulting Trump closely on whether to follow through on his most recent threats.
“Trump has always favored scrappy lawyers and street fighters,” O’Brien said. “Marc Kasowitz fits that profile.”
Alice Crites contributed to this report.