Who wants to be Donald Trump’s lawyer?
No, seriously. Among all the positions normally considered to be the worst jobs ever – sewer engineer, decomposition cleaner, British prime minister – it surely ranks as even less desirable than Trump’s chief of staff: a job that literally nobody wants. No matter how many imaginary applicants Trump sees lining up outside the West Wing.
Trump's tweets show how rattled he is by Mueller's findings
Trump’s last lawyer, Michael Cohen, is now preparing for a long cold spell inside the slammer next year. Meanwhile, the man currently purporting to represent the 45th president of the United States is hawking himself around Bahrain looking for other clients.
Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, now styles himself as one of the leading lights of Trump’s defense team. This is a stretch for a man who has spent the last decade as a lobbyist and security consultant. Giuliani’s legal career peaked in the late 1980s, around the time Michael Douglas proclaimed that greed was good. In other words: he’s the perfect pretend lawyer for our pretend president.
Sign up to receive the latest US opinion pieces every weekdayBut in terms of, you know, defending the man at risk of not one but two five-year felony charges of breaking election finance laws, Giuliani might not be a Gillette razor: the best a man can get. In Bahrain, he has been seeking new security contracts while his client is facing the deepest legal peril of his life. But Giuliani insists he is still on the case, and most definitely not trading on his presidential contacts. “I’m probably the most ethical person you ever met,” he declared. “I follow all the rules.”
It’s that probably that gives the game away. A bit like Carlsberg saying it’s probably the best beer in the world. Giuliani might be the most ethical person you ever met if you only ever met people related to Trump. Otherwise, you might want to drink a real beer.
As for preparing for the next onslaught from special counsel Robert Mueller, Giuliani sounded like he was plain out of gas: “We’ve done everything we can do. There’s not much more they’re going to call upon us to do.”
Giuliani’s legal work is built less on his actual lawyering than his talent for attacking a target with all the pizzazz of a pizza rat. This is what he said about the man who previously called himself Trump’s personal lawyer: “He’s a pathetic serial liar.” That was somewhat nicer than his previous description of Cohen as a “devious little rat”. It obviously takes one to know one.
This is the stage of Cohen’s life where we ought to have some sympathy for the humble family man whose legal practice barely made him $75,000 a year until he became the fixer for Trump. Sentenced to three years in prison – along with nearly $2m in fines and restitution – Cohen’s life and career lie in ruins. For what it’s worth, he tearfully blamed his crimes on his “blind loyalty” to Trump.
Then again, not so long ago, Cohen dreamed of taking that now-undesirable job of Trump’s chief of staff. Just last year, he was raking in millions from “consulting contracts” for his remarkable insights into the brainwaves of his client.
This is the same family man and legal mind whose modus operandi with reporters was, to put it delicately, knee-cappingly unconventional.
“So I’m warning you,” he told one journalist poking around in Trump’s private affairs, “tread very fucking lightly because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. Do you understand me? Don’t think you can hide behind your pen because it’s not going to happen.”
Apparently nobody told Cohen about karma, special counsels, or the physical challenges of hiding behind a pen. And the poor misguided soul had no idea that he wasn’t working for the Cosa Nostra where loyalty is supposed to count for something.
Instead of protecting one of their own, Trump and Giuliani have dumped on Cohen from the greatest height at every opportunity. “He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence,” Trump said of his former lawyer earlier this month. This was a refreshing affirmation of the rule of law from a president not otherwise known for his jurisprudence.
Why just this week, the man who swore to defend the constitution explained Cohen’s payoffs to porn stars in these terms: “Number one, it wasn’t a campaign contribution. If it were, it’s only civil, and even if it’s only civil, there was no violation based on what we did. OK?”
You can see why nobody in their right mind would want to be Trump’s lawyer. As legal arguments go, it leaves as much to the imagination as a Stormy Daniels movie.
Number one, the courts just jailed Cohen because the porn star payoffs were illegal campaign contributions.
Number two, they were most definitely criminal. Thus the jail time.
Number three, Trump’s violations were vividly detailed in the US attorney’s sentencing memo last week: “As Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1.”
Mr Individual-1: in case Giuliani hasn’t told you, there was another filing on Tuesday, this one involving your friends at the National Enquirer. They confirmed their role with Cohen and your campaign to pay off a Playboy model to influence the election.
In the absence of legal counsel, and with no legal qualifications whatsoever, it falls upon this column to spell out the choices ahead of you.
Rudy Giuliani has turned out to be a dangerous liability for Trump
Even before there is any discussion about Russia, or your tax returns, you are staring at 10 years in prison in addition to substantial fines and loss of property. You might escape impeachment, but you won’t escape prosecution.
You may think you cannot be indicted as a sitting president, but this idea – which is merely based on guidance from the justice department – will be tested in reality in short order. If you lose your re-election in 2020, you will have nowhere to run to, and nowhere to hide.
Like Nixon’s vice-president, Spiro Agnew, you may well find that it’s far less risky to quit office in exchange for a lesser sentence. You might even hold on to some of your hotels and golf courses, while also avoiding spending the rest of your life behind bars.
Some might say this plea deal would undermine the 2016 election. Others might say you undermined that election with your campaign finance crimes, which amounted to electoral fraud. But you can comfort yourself with this thought: for the man whose name is on the Art of the Deal, this would be your greatest masterpiece.