Attorneys James Trusty and John Rowley resigned from representing Donald Trump in his classified documents case hours after Trump’s federal criminal indictment became public. But Trusty wasn’t done quitting at that point. On Friday he followed up by filing to withdraw from representing Trump in the former president’s lawsuit against CNN.
“Mr. Trusty’s withdrawal is based upon irreconcilable differences between Counsel and Plaintiff and Counsel can no longer effectively and properly represent Plaintiff,” according to the brief filing. That’s less effusive than his resignation from the classified documents case, which claimed that it had been “an honor to have spent the last year defending [Trump], and we know he will be vindicated in his battle against the Biden Administration’s partisan weaponization of the American justice system.”
“We know he will be vindicated” and also “I have irreconcilable differences with him.” Hmm.
The Washington Post reported that Trusty and Rowley clashed with Trump confidant and investment banker Boris Epshteyn, who had previously caused another lawyer, Tim Parlatore, to resign from the classified documents case. Those lawyers had reportedly urged Trump to try to settle ahead of being charged, but he refused on the advice of Epshteyn and Judicial Watch head Tom Fitton, who are telling him what he wants to hear—that he should keep fighting and will be vindicated. As a result, he’s hemorrhaging lawyers.
Losing a lawyer in a long shot defamation lawsuit against CNN that most of us probably forgot he had even filed is not Trump’s biggest legal concern. The fact that he’s lost three lawyers from the team representing him as he faces 37 federal criminal charges, while a fourth lawyer had to recuse himself because he’d become a witness in the case, is a much bigger one. And Trump struggled to find local Florida counsel in that matter, with multiple prominent attorneys turning him down and Christopher Kise, a member of his existing legal team, appearing to step into that role unwillingly after a fruitless search.
This is all part of a pattern. Trump legitimately needs a lot of lawyers because he’s involved in a mind-boggling number of investigations, criminal indictments, and lawsuits. But he also churns through lawyers in a way that’s very familiar to observers of his time in the White House. Trump hires people unwisely and fires them abruptly or drives them away with his outrageous behavior.
The Washington Post counts more than three dozen attorneys who have represented Trump at some point since 2016, from his impeachments to his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election to the defamation suit brought by E. Jean Carroll (which Trump lost in court) to the investigation into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia to, of course, the classified documents case and the hush-money payments case in which he has been indicted.
Just as Trump hired White House staffers and administration officials because they were loyal to him, he’s seemed to choose lawyers more for their enthusiasm for going on TV to defend him, than for their legal competence. In late 2020, he seemed willing to take on anyone with a legal degree and a theory of how he could use the courts to overturn the election. In 2023, he’s listening to the people who tell him he had every right to keep those classified documents.
Trump has retained one showboater after another, listened to the advice of the likes of Epshteyn and Fitton, and has been rewarded with a string of brutal legal setbacks and losses. What he needs to do is the thing he has refused to do—and might not be able to at this point. He needs to hire the most competent lawyers he can, ones with no interest in going on television to talk about his cases, and he needs to take their advice. He also needs to pay them. But even if Trump miraculously became a model client, listening to and heeding sound legal advice, his reputation is already so bad that he would likely struggle to find the kind of lawyer he needs.
Donald Trump is facing even more legal jeopardy and the sharks in the Republican Party seem to sense there is some blood in the water. Chris Christie has made his campaign all about going directly at Trump, and Ron DeSantis seems to be closer and closer to becoming completely isolated from the field.