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Why Trump seems to have so many lawyers — and why he moves through them so quickly

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We continue our coverage on former President Trump. When he appeared today at a federal courthouse in Miami, he was represented by attorneys Christopher Kise and Todd Blanche. They're just the latest members of the Trump legal team after two other attorneys quit this case last week. Joining us to discuss why Trump goes through so many legal teams is NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Hey, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK. So Trump always seems to have an unusual number of lawyers and seems to move quickly through those lawyers. Why do you think we keep seeing this?

BERNSTEIN: Well, for starters, he has an unusual number of legal issues - two special counsel investigations, two impeachments, a criminal conviction for his company and a criminal indictment in Manhattan and maybe dozens of civil suits. Then he has a cadre of political advisers and a cadre of legal advisers, and there's friction. That said, Trump does have some lawyers like Chris Kise, who appeared today in Florida, who have stayed with him through a number of cases.

CHANG: Now, Trump fired the lawyers who had been representing him on this Mar-a-Lago documents case, but he fired them, like, the day after he was indicted. Why did he do that? What's your sense?

BERNSTEIN: So as we've seen, Trump often thinks he has a better idea of how to handle legal issues than his own lawyers, and he often overrules them. We don't know the specifics of what happened in this case yet. But what we do know - and we just saw in the recent indictment, as alleged - Trump has asked his lawyers to commit crimes for him, suggesting lying to the Justice Department and, according to his lawyers' notes, implying he should destroy or dispose of documents. Trump denies any wrongdoing, but this is not the first time we've seen evidence of this kind of behavior.

CHANG: And others who have worked for Trump, I mean, not just his personal lawyers have spoken out about that, right?

BERNSTEIN: Most recently, his former and once loyal-to-a-fault Attorney General Bill Barr said of the recent indictment on Fox News, if even half is true, he's toast. Michael Cohen was one of the earliest to flip on Trump, and Trump called him a rat. And others - not a personal attorney, but the former White House counsel Pat Cipollone gave very damning testimony to the January 6 Select Committee, in essence saying he had to block some of Trump's most fringe ideas, like seizing election machines and rerunning parts of the 2020 election.

CHANG: Let me just ask you, Andrea - you've covered Trump's business and legal dealings extensively, including in your book, "American Oligarchs." Churning through lawyers has been an issue throughout Trump's whole career, hasn't it?

BERNSTEIN: Right. So when I was writing my book, I kept coming across former lawyers who told me that when Trump didn't like their legal advice, he would fire them and get another lawyer - and also that he kept stiffing his lawyers. He would call them up and say to them, you're benefiting from being associated with Donald Trump. Therefore, I'm not paying you. And many of them just had to eat the losses.

CHANG: So I'm curious, then - which lawyers have stuck with Donald Trump?

BERNSTEIN: So far, in the New York criminal cases, where it really matters, Trump has been able to keep some very well-respected lawyers on his team and to make sure they're paid. Other lawyers, like Rudy Giuliani, are ideologically committed to Trump, but that loyalty comes with a price. The white-shoe law firm that Giuliani was a part of asked him to leave due to reputational damage. That happened to at least one other lawyer who worked with Donald Trump in the 2020 election matters.

CHANG: Well, then over time, I'm curious, like, which lawyer has Trump had the closest, longest ties with?

BERNSTEIN: He loved Roy Cohn, the lawyer for Joe McCarthy, who went after and blacklisted alleged communists in the 1950s. Cohn represented Trump in a 1970s racial discrimination suit and in many, many tax cases. But even then, when Cohn, who was gay and in the closet, contracted AIDS, Trump withdrew his business.

CHANG: That is NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thank you so much, Andrea.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Bernstein
[Copyright 2024 NPR]

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