Trump's Go-To Lawyer Kasowitz: A Pit Bull Loyal to the Boss
(Bloomberg) -- He’s not a criminal defense lawyer. He’s not attuned to the ways of Washington. And he’s not from a white-shoe law firm.
What Marc E. Kasowitz is is a bare-knuckled litigator, a fiercely loyal defender of President Donald Trump and an expert at maneuvering through high-profile legal brawls such as the sexual harassment scandal engulfing former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.
It’s no surprise that Trump has turned to Kasowitz -- again. This time, Kasowitz will defend the president in an investigation that could make or break the presidency: an independent counsel’s wide-ranging probe into Trump’s campaign and Russian interference in the election. He’ll quarterback a legal team that is certain to expand as former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s scrutiny intensifies.
"He’s a great lawyer," said Kenneth Haber, general counsel of Douglas Elliman Realty, a Kasowitz client. "He has very good judgment."
Kasowitz, the managing partner at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, has built a lucrative practice with a focus on commercial litigation, real estate, bankruptcy and securities law. The firm has more than 250 lawyers in Manhattan and across the country. Clients have ranged from property investors to insurers including ACA Financial Guaranty Corp and MBIA Inc.
Lawyers in the firm’s investigations, compliance and white-collar defense unit have defended Hilton Worldwide Holdings and MF Global Holdings, according to the firm’s website. Another client is Sberbank PJSC, the Russian state-controlled behemoth, which is accused in a lawsuit in Manhattan of aiding a corporate raid of a granite company.
Some have turned to Kasowitz because of his pit bull-like advocacy. Before O’Reilly’s firing last month amid sexual harassment allegations, Kasowitz said the TV host was the victim of “character assassination” not seen since McCarthyism. A client, speaking confidentially, said Kasowitz thrives on legal combat and is the type of attorney people turn to when seeking to intimidate the other side.
A graduate of Yale University and Cornell University law school, Kasowitz on his website includes news coverage calling him the “toughest lawyer on Wall Street” and an “uberlitigator."
The firm has had its share of controversy. In 2008, after a recently departed partner brought a $90 million defamation suit against the firm, the law firm accused the lawyer of sexually harassing at least a dozen female employees with sexual propositions and innuendo. The cases were dismissed.
Kasowitz represented Biovail Technologies, the pharmaceutical company later acquired by Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc., in a suit accusing short-sellers including Steven A. Cohen’s SAC Capital of fraud. Biovail fired Kasowitz in 2007 over the firm’s use of documents in violation of a protective order.
Calls to Kasowitz weren’t returned.
Trump has repeatedly looked to Kasowitz Benson for support in his young presidency. David Friedman, a partner there, was named as Trump’s ambassador to Israel. Edward E. McNally, another partner, is said to be a leading candidate for the high-profile post of U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Manhattan. And former U.S. senator and vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, who is of counsel to the firm, had been on the short list for FBI director.
Kasowitz says prominently on his firm’s website that his “notable representations" include Trump “in a wide range of litigation matters for over 15 years.” Together, Trump and Kasowitz have battled state regulators, real estate partners and journalists. Here’s a look at some of the cases where they went to court together:
- A former “Apprentice” contestant, Summer Zervos, last year accused Trump of making multiple unwanted sexual advances before he became president. She sued him for defamation after he said she was lying about “phony” abuse. The case is pending.
- Kasowitz helped handle last year’s appeal of a fraud case brought by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman over Trump University. Trump lost the appeal and agreed after the 2016 presidential election to pay $25 million to settle lawsuits tied to the defunct program.
- In 2006, Kasowitz represented Trump in a $5 billion defamation suit against Timothy O’Brien, who wrote "TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald," claiming the author had misrepresented Trump’s net worth by placing it at an estimated $250 million rather than more than $5 billion. A judge threw the case out in 2009 in a decision that was later upheld on appeal. O’Brien, at the time a reporter for The New York Times, is now an executive editor of Bloomberg Gadfly and Bloomberg View.
- As part of the O’Brien case, Kasowitz convinced a judge to order New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. to sit for a deposition. Kasowitz and the newspaper squared off again last year during the campaign when the lawyer wrote a letter demanding a retraction and an apology for an article with allegations from two women that Trump had inappropriately touched them years before. David McCraw, a lawyer for the newspaper, sent Kasowitz a letter refusing and saying if Trump disagreed, "We welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight."
- In 2005, Kasowitz’s firm represented Trump in a suit against his business partners in the $1.76 billion sale of the Riverside South development on Manhattan’s Upper West side, saying they ignored offers for as much as $3 billion. A judge dismissed the claims the next year.