Casualties in Trump Scandal Include Self-Serving Lawyers

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Among the casualties in the Donald Trump scandal are self-serving lawyers. Two of them — Rudy Giuliani, the president’s counselor, and Lanny Davis, attorney for Michael Cohen, Trump’s ex-fixer turned accuser — are now facing off in the Super Bowl of publicity hounds.

Cohen’s guilty plea to payoffs, allegedly at the direction of Trump, to protect the candidate in the 2016 presidential campaign, and a separate conviction of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who might yet flip against the president, shook the political and legal turf. The odds now are that Trump eventually will face either an impeachment inquest or post-presidency indictment.

Along with the president, the five former Trump associates now having pleaded guilty or been convicted are the biggest losers in a saga that’s far from over. Trump has sought to smear special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, but Mueller has compiled a very impressive record in 15 months, especially compared with the record of the last independent prosecutor to investigate a president, Kenneth Starr.

Giuliani, once a feared prosecutor and celebrated mayor of New York City, has become a national embarrassment. He has declared that the president, or any president, isn’t subject to obstruction of justice, although the impeachment charges against two modern presidents, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, featured obstruction-of-justice offenses.

Giuliani has charged the unflappable Mueller with “panicking” and running a “corrupt” inquiry. He most recently declared that, “Truth isn’t truth.”

There are various explanations and excuses for this bizarre behavior. One is that Giuliani, who was humiliated when he ran for president a decade ago, craves the limelight he once enjoyed. According to this theory, as good as any, this is about Rudy more than Trump.

Giuliani has met his self-promoting match in Lanny Davis, who signed on this summer as one of Cohen’s lawyers. He has been ubiquitous, relentless and also disingenuous. He insists his client is sincere, a born-again honest man; in fact the prosecutors had such a slam-dunk case against Cohen that they haven’t yet even offered him any deal for cooperating.

Davis also declared that Cohen, Trump’s faithful fixer for more than a decade, turned because he was so shocked at Trump’s pandering to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin at this summer’s Helsinki summit. Almost no one believes that. Cohen has long known of Trump’s affinity for the Russians, and he himself has had numerous dealings with shady Russians and Ukrainians. This was about self-preservation, not principle.

None of this has come as a surprise to many who know Davis, a self-styled crisis manager and confidant of the Clintons; the disclosure of private emails showed there were dozens of exchanges between him and Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state. But during the 2016 presidential contest, top Clinton campaign officials ordered Davis be kept at a distance. He was an adviser to President Bill Clinton but enormously exaggerated his role.

Davis has a long list of sleazy clients ranging from dictators from countries like the Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea to now disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. There’s always a familiar Davis explanation: He’s trying to get bad guys to do good things.

The pitch now is that “truth-teller” Michael Cohen has important information for Mueller. That may say more about Davis than Cohen.

Mueller isn’t a man who gets distracted. And his team almost never leaks, unlike the far more political investigators in the probe of Bill Clinton two decades ago that was led by Starr, an inexperienced and weak prosecutor.

That suggests Mueller won’t pay much attention to the publicity antics of a Giuliani or Davis. That’s instructive for other lawyers in this scandal.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.

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