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Trump considered hiring heavyweight Jones Day law firm during Russia inquiry, book says

Donald Trump considered but rejected hiring the law firm Jones Day to represent him during the Russia investigation, a new book says.

The news that Trump could have hired a heavyweight firm for his personal defence but chose not to – preferring “someone a bit more bombastic”, according to senior partners – comes after the former president appointed a new lawyer in his battle with the Department of Justice over the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida for classified White House documents.

In his many brushes with the law as president and after, Trump is widely seen to have struggled for quality representation.

Jones Day, a huge international firm, advised Trump’s campaign in 2016 and played a major role in his administration from 2017 to 2021, most publicly through the work of Donald McGahn, a partner, as Trump’s first White House counsel.

The firm’s talks about doing more personal work for Trump are described in Servants of the Damned: Giant Law Firms, Donald Trump and the Corruption of Justice, a book by the New York Times reporter David Enrich that will be published next week. The Guardian obtained a copy.

According to Enrich, at the outset of the Trump administration, McGahn “wanted to be spending his time in the White House filling the judiciary with [conservative] Federalist Society judges and, to a lesser extent, dismantling the ‘administrative state’”.

The White House counsel enjoyed great success on the judges issue, piloting a process that installed hundreds of judges and saw three conservatives put on the supreme court.

But, Enrich writes: “What McGahn increasingly found himself and his team spending time on was Trump’s personal legal problems.”

McGahn, Enrich writes, thought Trump should have “his own, competent counsel” to deal with investigations of Russian election interference and links between Trump and Moscow, and Trump’s firing of the FBI director James Comey.

That, Enrich says, led to Trump having at least two Oval Office meetings with Stephen Brogan, managing partner of Jones Day.

Enrich reports that some at Jones Day thought such a deal would tie the firm too closely to Trump as his presidency pitched into controversy and chaos. Brogan was advised to pull back but pushed to land the client.

“In the end, Brogan didn’t get the job,” Enrich writes, adding that it “went instead to John Dowd. The feeling among some senior Jones Day partners was that Trump wanted someone a bit more bombastic than Brogan as his defender-in-chief.”

Trump’s pick had ramifications for the rest of his presidency and beyond. Dowd, a former US Marine, resigned in March 2018, his conduct of Trump’s response to the Russia investigation widely seen as a failure. McGahn, who cooperated with the special counsel Robert Mueller quit five months later.

The Russia investigation bruised Trump but he escaped impeachment. He did not escape it over approaches to Ukraine involving withholding military aid while seeking dirt on rivals including Joe Biden.

Because enough Republican senators stayed loyal, Trump was acquitted in his first Senate trial and in his second, for inciting the deadly Capitol attack of 6 January 2021, in his attempt to overturn his 2020 election defeat.

But throughout such travails, Trump was represented by lawyers widely seen as not up to the task, including Bruce Castor, a former district attorney from Pennsylvania who gave a rambling presentation in the second impeachment trial.

Throughout his wild post-presidency, Trump has continued to struggle to hire top talent. Regarding the Mar-a-Lago search last month, critics suggest Trump’s lawyers have made life easier for the DoJ with moves including demanding details of the related affidavit and warrant be made public.

Writing for The Intercept last week, the reporter James Risen said: “Even [Trump’s] cultishly loyal lawyers have become radioactive with prosecutors, angering the justice department with their efforts to politicise the case. In a court filing … the justice department said that Trump’s lawyers have leveled ‘wide-ranging meritless accusations’ against the government.”

Two Trump attorneys, Christina Bobb and Evan Corcoran, may be in danger of becoming targets of an obstruction investigation, given their roles liaising with the DoJ over records stored at Mar-a-Lago.

Last week, in a move widely seen as a play for better representation, Trump hired Chris Kise, a former Florida solicitor general who has won cases before the US supreme court.

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