Multiple sources have reported that Donald Trump’s “personal attorney” called for the Justice Department to fire Robert Mueller and terminate his investigation into, among other things, collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian government interests intending to support his candidacy and damage Hillary Clinton’s chances. See, e.g., http://wapo.st/2plSJhp. The demand by John Dowd followed immediately the firing of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe which, according to Dowd, was fatally influenced by political bias. Repeating claims made directly by Trump, Dowd said “I pray” that the investigation is ended.
Dowd’s “prayer” will have the same effect as the “thoughts and prayers” that are the sole national Republican response to the Parkland Florida school massacre.
Curiously, Dowd told the Daily Beast that he was speaking on behalf of the president in his capacity as Trump’s attorney. When the Daily Beast published that statement, Dowd immediately retracted it and said he was not speaking for the president.
If Dowd was truth-telling in his retraction, it means that while serving as Trump’s personal attorney, he has made public statements on his own initiative about a matter of the greatest importance to his client without his client’s knowledge or approval. If indeed Dowd were not speaking for Trump, one would expect Trump, the client whose interests are being affected, to discharge his attorney for acting without permission in a way that could damage the client. On the other hand, if Trump liked what Dowd said, he (Trump) would not fire the attorney and would align himself with the attorney’s statements. That is, in fact, what Trump did via the usual Saturday tweet storm, denying yet again that he colluded with Russians and yet again attacking federal law enforcement agencies and the State Department that he has criticized repeatedly during the campaign and after becoming president.
This dance brings to mind that other Trump attorney who claims to have acted in another matter of vital importance to Trump but without Trump’s knowledge or approval. This, of course, is Michael Cohen who has represented Trump for years and who admits he paid $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels to secure her agreement to remain silent about her claimed affair with Trump, an affair that Trump has denied.
So, once again, we have an attorney for Trump claiming to act on behalf of Trump without Trump’s knowledge or consent, using the attorney’s own funds and without expectation of reimbursement.
While the standards of attorney conduct have apparently loosened dramatically over recent decades, it is still considered risky for an attorney to invest in a client’s business. The potential for conflicts of interest to arise when at attorney has a financial stake in a client’s business is serious. One supposes, however, that even when it occurs, the attorney’s investment in the client’s affairs is disclosed to the client. Indeed, I believe it would be a clear ethics violation for an attorney to invest in a client’s business without disclosure to the client.
So, if I am correct, Dowd either is lying about Trump’s knowledge of the payoff to Daniels and the signing of the Nondisclosure Agreement by Dowd on Trump’s behalf or Dowd acted on Trump’s behalf without disclosing that he was, in effect, investing in Trump’s business (in this case, the business being the presidential campaign) by making the secret payment to Daniels with no expectation of repayment. Trump himself did not sign the NDA, but standing alone, that fact does not prove that he was ignorant of the arrangements. Even if it’s true that Cohen did not expect repayment (he reportedly complained to friends that Trump had stiffed him, but this is not substantiated), the payment still represents an investment that would, if successful in silencing Daniels, help get Trump elected, with longer term rewards to Dowd from his alliance with President Trump.
If there is a middle ground here, I don’t see it. We have two different attorneys acting on behalf of a client they claim was ignorant of their actions on the client’s behalf, in matters of the utmost importance to the client’s future. Perhaps someone more steeped in the nuances of attorney ethics than I can explain how such actions are not ethics violations. And, of course, if Trump did know what was being done on his behalf in either or both cases, then the lying is compounded and becomes further dishonesty and corruption on the part of the president.
Time will tell how all this shakes out. Ms. Daniels is represented by Michael Avenatti who is very measured in his public statements and, by relying on his client to speak about Trump, seems to know what he is about. Her interview with 60 Minutes is scheduled to be broadcast next Sunday and, if it happens, will shed new and dramatic light on the situation. And then there is James Comey’s book which is about to publish. Buckle your seat belts. The ride is about to get wilder.