Where does lawyering this bad come from?

How Trump’s lawyers lost their minds

Tim Wu

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It is a well-established fact that many of Donald Trump’s associates are lowlives and crooks. But I’ve long felt that a special kind of attention need be paid to his collection of personal lawyers, who collectively make up some of the most depraved, unethical, and generally repulsive characters to have ever claimed the title of “Attorney.”

The blueprint is provided by Roy Cohn, his first personal attorney, who was a Joseph McCarthy-staffer turned mob lawyer, disbarred in the 1980s after attempting to defraud a dying client of his fortune. (The documentary on his life is fantastic). But his two main successors, Michael Cohen (also disbarred) and Rudolph Giuliani, have been no less spectacular in their disregard for ethics and, in recent years, increasingly frivolous and insane legal strategies. There are major law firms in this mix, including Jones Day (despite recent denials) and special mention must be made of Alan Dershowitz and the Sekulow family. Adding to the bizarreness are recent additions L. Lin Wood (Satan worship) and Sidney Powell (“release the Kraken”).

Even by their own standards, the last few weeks have been extreme for Trump’s current legal team, the self-titled “elite strike force.” In an extraordinary mixture of conspiracy theory and horrendously unethical lawyering they have filed dozens of weak and frivolous suits based on spurious evidence, have publicly alleged conspiracies involving Venezuela, China, and the CIA, and even, in the case of L. Lin Wood, discussed satanic cults and pedophilia rings. For the first time I can remember, the lawyers have been crazier than the politicians. It says something when Chris Christie is the voice of reason. And, of course, they keep losing in court, often in humiliating fashion.

So just where does lawyering this bad come from? Some of these figures were always bad apples, but some were, once upon a time, respectable or fairly respectable. The simpler answer is that they were all just ethically impaired to begin with. But a deeper answer, I believe, comes from understanding the corrupting influence of the lawyering process itself, an effect wildly amplified in the case of working for Trump.

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Tim Wu

Professor at Columbia University; author of “The Curse of Bigness,” “The Attention Merchants,” and “The Master Switch;” veteran of Silicon Valley & Obama Admin.