President Donald Trump is struggling to attract elite legal talent to his administration, top Republican lawyers say, as its repeated blunders and vindictive posture has left many of Washington’s top conservative litigators leery of the embattled White House.
Veteran Republican lawyers and their proteges, wary of backing a president with a self-destructive streak, have decided to stay in private practice given Trump’s unpredictability, reports Politico’s Josh Gerstein.
Trump abruptly dismissed former FBI director James Comey — whom he called a “nut job” during an Oval Office meeting with Russian officials — and publicly contradicted his own deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein in the past month alone. Rosenstein, a respected Department of Justice veteran, had his sterling reputation somewhat tarnished after the bungled Comey firing. All this as the probe into alleged collusion between his campaign and Russian interests expands into Trump’s own family and threatens to engulf his presidency.
“They were dealing with a pool that had already shrunk and, now, of course, some people will be avoiding it like the plague,” one Republican lawyer who held a top post at the Justice Department under President George W. Bush told Politico. “There’s definitely some poisoning of the well going on in terms of who would take a job at this point.”
The issue is reportedly compounded by the administration’s refusal to hire any lawyers who aligned with the Never Trump movement during the 2016 election. Gerstein reports that even those reformed Never Trump-ers who wish to join the administration have essentially been blacklisted from government service.
Paul Rosenzweig, a veteran of the Bush-era Homeland Security Department, said the pool of perspective candidates for top legal posts numbers at just half a dozen.
“I look around at people considering going into the Trump administration and the same names come up for every open job,” Rosenzweig said. “It’s the same six names for every open job — the people who are both qualified and willing to serve.”
But one Trump aide argued that qualification, not interest, is what’s at issue when filing senior government positions.
“The bottom line is there’s a small universe of people who are eligible, and so, naturally, you are going to see repeat names appearing,” the advisor said.
Trump has drawn much of his legal talent from a single firm, Jones Day, who he retained as campaign counsel during the 2016 general election. Over a dozen Jones Day lawyers are currently serving throughout the Trump administration, including White House Counsel Don McGahn and incoming Solicitor General Noel Francisco. The firm, know for uncompromising discretion, seems a fitting partner for a president who places serious stock in secrecy.
The president also has close ties to Kasowitz Benson & Torres, a commercial litigation shop in New York which — in Trumpian fashion — boasts of its “aggressive legal strategies.” Firm partner Marc Kasowitz was recently retained as Trump’s personal attorney. He will counsel the president through ongoing law enforcement probes into alleged collusion between members of his campaign and Russian officials.
Trump has also tapped the firm’s ranks for prominent posts across the government. He appointed David Friedman, formerly a named partner at the firm, as ambassador to Israel, and is reportedly close to naming Edward McNally U.S. Attorney for the southern district of New York.
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