The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Two ex-Trump lawyers point to peril

Timothy Parlatore and Ty Cobb reinforced the dissension and alienation that have plagued Trump’s legal effort for years

Former president Donald Trump boards his plane on April 27 in Manchester, N.H. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
5 min

Donald Trump is running for president with a series of low-hanging legal clouds looming over him. It probably doesn’t help that two of his former lawyers have pointed to the dissension, alienation and alleged missteps that have plagued his legal effort for years.

Speaking to CNN on Saturday, attorney Timothy Parlatore, who recently left the Trump legal team, blamed infighting and one fellow lawyer in particular for his departure. And he seemed to warn of the problems that that lawyer, Boris Epshteyn, is creating for Trump’s defense. Meanwhile, former top Trump White House lawyer Ty Cobb went so far as to predict that Trump “will go to jail” in the classified-documents case, while also citing the Trump team’s poor handling of it.

Parlatore is not the first Trump lawyer to cite infighting within Trump’s legal circle — and, as notably, to decide to go public with it. Nor is Cobb the first to go from advocating for Trump to pointing to his self-inflicted legal peril.

Parlatore insisted that his departure didn’t stem from Trump or the substance of his defense in the classified-documents case. But he suggested Ephsteyn was effectively compromising that defense.

“The real reason is because there are certain individuals that made defending the president much harder than it needed to be,” Parlatore said. “In particular, there is one individual who works for him, Boris Epshteyn, who had really done everything he could to try to block us — to prevent us from doing what we could to defend the president.”

He said Ephsteyn “served as kind of a filter to prevent us from getting information to the client.”

“In my opinion, he was not very honest with us or with the client on certain things,” Parlatore added. “There were certain things like the searches that he had attempted to interfere with.”

Ephsteyn declined to comment to The Washington Post.

It is unusual for a lawyer to go public with such beefs, especially so shortly after their departures (Parlatore left the legal team last week). One way to understand it would be that Parlatore is just that upset. But there is also a long history of Trump allies deciding to air these things publicly on cable news in apparent hopes that the message will be received by the “audience of one,” Trump.

To the extent it’s the latter, that would seem to be an inauspicious sign about how Parlatore feels Trump’s defense is progressing at a crucial juncture.

It’s not the first time Parlatore has at least gestured toward possible problems within Trump’s legal team. Just last month, he raised eyebrows by alluding to Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina’s “certain potential conflict issues” in the Stormy Daniels case. (Daniels once contacted Tacopina in search of representation.) He praised the other lead lawyer on the case, Susan Necheles, before raising the potential conflict issue. When pressed further by CNN, he said, “I’m not going to comment on Joe Tacopina.”

The new comments also hark back to Trump’s second impeachment, after which his lawyer David Schoen offered some unvarnished thoughts on another member of the legal team, Bruce Castor. Castor was added to the team late, and Schoen indicated there was confusion about who was taking the lead.

“So he stood up and said, ‘I think I better jump in here,’” Schoen recounted to Jewish Insider of Castor’s much-derided, rambling opening statement. “He jumped in and obviously it was like a filibuster. It was not a good presentation.

“I thought, ‘This guy’s career is going to disappear,’ ” Schoen said, adding: “He still thought he did a good job.”

Trump was acquitted, but not before a historic number of Republicans voted to convict him.

All of these comments point to a lack of order within Trump’s legal team and would seem to help explain why Trump’s cast of lawyers has long been a revolving door.

Cobb, meanwhile, also seemed to point to the Trump team’s shoddy handling of the classified-documents case — he noted that they had asserted all such documents had been found, when in fact they had not — while predicting Trump would “go to jail.”

“And the many other misrepresentations that he and others have made on his behalf with regard to his possession of classified documents,” Cobb said on CNN. “So, I think this is — I think this obstruction case is a tight case. And, yes, I do think he’ll go to jail on it.”

Similarly, Trump’s former attorney general, William P. Barr, has said the Justice Department probably has enough evidence to “legitimately” indict Trump.

“He had no claim to those documents, especially the classified documents,” Barr added last month. “They belong to the government. And so I think he was jerking the government around, and they subpoenaed it, and they tried to jawbone them into delivering the documents.”

And then of course there’s another former Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen, who has proved a central figure in driving the one case in which Trump has been indicted thus far, the Daniels hush money case.

In many ways, this is an outgrowth of the chaos that plagued Trump’s presidential administration. Many high-ranking officials found themselves alienated and wound up warning the country about what was taking place and even speaking out against Trump. Trump in turn has attacked them and dismissed them as disloyal.

But at some point, if you’re the team charged with leading Trump’s high-stakes legal defense — where such political arguments don’t work as well — it might be helpful to internalize these warning signs about what may lie ahead.

The Trump team seems to be going a different direction, though. Parlatore on Saturday suggested he might even return to Trump’s legal team if the problems are dealt with.

The Trump team’s response? That Parlatore’s “statements regarding current members of the legal team are unfounded and categorically false.”