“Trust is very important,” he says. “That’s the essential thing you need for a criminal-defense relationship to succeed. Frankness on both sides. ‘Tell me everything, good and bad.’” With Trump, “you’re dealing with someone who has no regard for the truth,” Rudovsky continued. “He has never built a trustworthy relationship with a lawyer. You just don’t get a lot of the essential information.” Indeed, if news accounts are correct, it’s Mueller who’s getting the essential information—from witnesses who are sharing material that Trump’s lawyers are in the dark about.
And the flip side of Trump’s instinctive secrecy is his transparency on Twitter. For lawyers, that, too, is a minefield. Many legal analysts have long contended that some of the tweets—attacking potential witnesses, for instance—might buttress a Mueller case for obstruction of justice. Rudovsky tells me, “What every lawyer tells every client is, ‘Don’t say anything on social media, don’t put anything on social media, it’ll come back to haunt you.’ But he’s uncontrollable.”
Dowd, Ty Cobb, and Marc Kasowitz are no longer working with Trump for various reasons; the spokesman for his personal legal team, Mark Corallo, quit last year because, according to a close friend, he could no longer tolerate his job “on a moral and professional level”; and his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen has been pulled into the prosecutors’ camp by dint of his confessed criminal activities. And McGahn, the onetime White House counsel, has been shown the door; in the Woodward account, Trump singled him out as weak and disloyal. The problem with the latter assessment is that a White House counsel is tasked with being loyal to the presidency, not to its occupant.
That’s arguably the crux of the issue. Trump’s core requirement—that lawyers be personally loyal to him, always working with his “best interests in mind”—ultimately extends to those, like the White House counsel, who work for the American people. There’s no indication that anyone is poised to step into McGahn’s shoes. Trump has considered Emmet Flood, currently a key personal lawyer, but aides have tried to derail that move, leaking to Fox News that Flood is busy playing defense against Mueller and shouldn’t be moved.
Jonathan Turley, a legal scholar at the George Washington University Law School and a frequent counsel in national-security cases, tells me that Trump’s criticism of McGahn “reveals a fundamental misconception of the role of a lawyer.” He elaborated: “The White House counsel is not Trump’s lawyer, but counsel protecting the office. … No ethical lawyer could accept that job without a clear understanding that the loyalty of the White House counsel runs first and foremost to the presidency. … That is the defining principle of a ‘good lawyer.’”