President Trump’s effort to assemble a legal dream team to defend him in the special-counsel investigation has faltered, making it increasingly likely that his representation will be controlled by a famously combative attorney who worked for Trump’s businesses, according to sources familiar with the process.
Marc Kasowitz, a New York lawyer who represented Trump for more than 15 years, was selected late last month by Trump to handle the investigation into whether Russia colluded with his 2016 presidential campaign. Kasowitz does not, however, have Washington experience in dealing with a special-counsel case, and White House officials had held discussions with a number of top Washington attorneys about joining what some officials had hoped would be a high-profile team effort.
That idea has been largely shelved because the attorneys have conflicts of interest or scheduling, prefer not to work for Trump, or have associations with Democrats that have made the White House uncomfortable. Kasowitz, meanwhile, is said to be leery of bringing in a lawyer who might want to be a co-counsel or take over the case.
“Kasowitz doesn’t want to surrender the case,” said Jay Goldberg, who served as Trump’s lawyer from 1990 to 2005, including during his two divorces. Goldberg said that he had urged the president to hire a high-powered Washington attorney but is satisfied with the choice of Kasowitz, whom he admires.
“If you bring in another lawyer of high quality, Kasowitz may find himself as the second, and lawyers don’t ever want to do that,” he said.
A source familiar with the selection process, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing consultations with White House officials, said that the Kasowitz firm and Trump rejected the idea of a “dream team” of super lawyers because it reminded them of the 1980s Yankees, “which had a bunch of big names but they didn’t play well together. You have to be careful. This is the case of a lifetime.”
The 1980s Yankees never won the World Series.
The source said that Kasowitz probably still will bring on help from an experienced Washington lawyer, but probably not anyone on the list of oft-mentioned high-profile lawyers.
The Washington Post has previously reported that Trump was considering an array of lawyers including former solicitor general Theodore Olson; Brendan Sullivan, who represented Oliver North in the Iran-contra matter; Reid Weingarten, who has represented many clients in government investigations; and A. B. Culvahouse, former White House counsel to President Ronald Reagan. Sullivan and Weingarten did not return calls seeking comment. Olson declined to comment via email, and Culvahouse said in a brief telephone interview that he could not discuss a confidential matter.
That leaves the president’s legal strategy to be overseen by Kasowitz, who is known for his boastful nature, strong-arm tactics and loyalty to Trump. His website biography quotes a publication saying Kasowitz is “one of the most prominent and feared lawyers in the United States.” Kasowitz declined to comment.
It was Kasowitz who filed a lawsuit against Timothy O’Brien, arguing that the author of “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald” had libeled Trump by understating the businessman’s wealth. Trump sought $5 billion in damages. Kasowitz’s team taped an O’Brien book talk, asking whether he wrote it “because you don’t like him.” Trump lost the case in 2011. O’Brien told The Post last year that Trump used Kasowitz because he “always favored scrappy lawyers and street fighters.”
It was also Kasowitz who conveyed Trump’s threat during the presidential campaign to sue the New York Times for a story that said two women accused Trump of touching them inappropriately. Kasowitz said at the time it was “nothing more than a politically motivated effort to defeat Mr. Trump’s candidacy.” No suit has been filed.
A lawyer familiar with Kasowitz’s work for Trump said the selection has stunned many in the legal community.
“Kasowitz is not in the club,” said the lawyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity and also is familiar with the decision by one of the Washington attorneys not to join the Trump legal team. “He is not a white-collar lawyer. He is a bulldog civil litigator. It is a peculiar choice. You want someone who is going to navigate this and keep it contained, someone [Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III] is going to respect. You don’t go in there with your hair on fire.”
But the source familiar with the selection process said that Kasowitz has something no Washington lawyer can match: a long history with Trump.
“The reason to hire to Marc is that he has this client’s trust and respect, and the client listens to him as much as he listens to anyone,” said the person familiar with the decision. “A stranger in D.C. who says, ‘This is the way we do it in D.C.,’ he is not going to be a good fit.”
A report by Yahoo News anonymously quoted lawyers at four firms saying that they rebuffed efforts to represent Trump partly due to concerns that Trump would not heed their advice.
A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.