Joseph diGenova, the Trump campaign lawyer who had been a fixture in Washington legal circles for decades, resigned under pressure Tuesday from the elite Gridiron Club after an uproar over his comments suggesting a former government official should be executed.
Still, the White House denounced the statement, Krebs said he would consider legal action — and the 135-year-old Gridiron Club asked diGenova to step down.
“We were dismayed by his comments and we felt that they were, on top of everything else, just antithetical to what the club is about,” said club president Craig Gilbert, the Washington bureau chief for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “It’s a social club — we’re all about fellowship and good will.”
The Gridiron Club is primarily an organization for Washington journalists, but it is best known for an annual formal dinner that also ropes in political luminaries and a raucous musical-comedy presentation of satirical songs and skits. DiGenova, who served as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia in the 1980s, had been a “limited” member for more than 25 years, one of a handful of “ringers” recruited for their impressive singing voices.
DiGenova confirmed the sequence of events and said “I have no ill will toward” the club and its board.
“I was happy to be a member,” he said. “It’s their club, and we’re at a strange time in American history, and, I guess I was canceled.”
In a statement Tuesday, he explained that his comments about Krebs “were sarcastic and made in jest. I, of course, wish Mr. Krebs no harm. This was hyperbole in a political discourse.” On Wednesday, he told The Washington Post that his comments had prompted a flurry of threatening phone calls, and that his law firm was hiring private security for him, his wife and their employees.
His comments have also caused alarm on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday, U.S. Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) and Ted W. Lieu (D-Ca.), both former prosecutors, called on the disciplinary arm of the D.C. bar to immediately open an investigation into diGenova’s statements as an incitement to violence and a violation of rules of professional conduct. “If a lawyer licensed in the District of Columbia can – while speaking in a representative capacity – publicly call for the death of his client’s perceived adversaries without consequences, the [bar] Counsel has abjectly failed in its duty,” the lawmakers wrote.
Founded in 1885, the Gridiron Club is famously bipartisan. Trump has given remarks at the dinner, and in 2019, so did Ivanka Trump, who joked that “being Donald Trump’s daughter” was the hardest job in the world.
While officially not off-the-record, the proceedings are not televised, lending them a different vibe than some of the city’s other media-political galas, and far less of a lightning rod than the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, where caustic routines by professional comics have raised claims of partisan bias.
By contrast, the Gridiron Club’s motto is “singe, but never burn.” But last year, it took the unusual step of asking diGenova — who was then advising Trump regarding his impeachment — to not perform during the 2020 show after journalists on the club’s board said they were concerned about his involvement as a potential news subject.
DiGenova said he didn’t agree with that reasoning and called his ouster this week “the full circle of the story.”
“It’s a wonderful club and I have enjoyed it immensely. I had great fun and met many wonderful people in the press,” he said. “Again, it’s their club, and I’m just a roving minstrel.”
The club ended up calling off its March dinner due to the pandemic, and plans to host its next event on Sept. 18, 2021.
“We think there’s still a place for an event like this, where people can mingle and have a meal together and sort of poke fun at each other amid their differences,” Gilbert said, “That is the tradition and obviously in some ways today it may be more challenging, but arguably, more important.”
Spencer Hsu contributed to this story, which has been updated.