Who Are The Lawyers Investigating Russia's Meddling In U.S. Elections? | KERA News

Who Are The Lawyers Investigating Russia's Meddling In U.S. Elections?

Jun 20, 2017
Originally published on June 20, 2017 5:15 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

President Trump has brought on a team of outside lawyers to help him navigate the various investigations into Russian meddling in the election. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly now also looking into possible obstruction of justice by the president in his firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith has this look at Trump's lawyers and what their past experience can tell us about what the president is preparing for.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Shortly after former FBI Director James Comey finished testifying before a Senate committee, a white-haired man in a suit walked up to a lectern at The National Press Club and faced reporters.

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MARC KASOWITZ: I'm Marc Kasowitz, President Trump's personal lawyer.

KEITH: Kasowitz has represented Trump and his businesses for 15 years. On the day of Comey's testimony, he read from a statement and took no questions.

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KASOWITZ: The president feels completely vindicated and is eager to continue moving forward.

KEITH: He hasn't made any public remarks since. The face of President Trump's legal team is now Jay Sekulow. He appeared on four different Sunday shows this week, including Fox News Sunday, where he was asked to defend this tweet from the president. Quote, "I am being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director - witch hunt."

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JAY SEKULOW: We have not received nor are we aware of any investigation of the president of the United States, period.

CHRIS WALLACE: Sir, you just said two times that he's being investigated.

SEKULOW: No, the context of the tweet - I just gave you the legal theory, Chris, of how the Constitution works.

KEITH: His specialty is First Amendment religious liberty cases. He's argued 12 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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SEKULOW: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the court.

KEITH: Starting in 1987 in a case that pitted the Los Angeles Airport versus the group Jews for Jesus, who wanted to pass out literature at the airport.

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SEKULOW: There is no justification for a sweeping ban on First Amendment activities which would subordinate cherished First Amendment freedoms.

KEITH: In winning that case, Sekulow made a name for himself. In the 1990s, he founded the American Center for Law and Justice with evangelical minister Pat Robertson. Not only does ACLJ pursue religious liberty cases, it fought the building of a mosque near Ground Zero and even has a call-in show that airs on hundreds of stations nationwide.

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SEKULOW: And what about this issue of subpoenas and unmasking?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Live from Washington, D.C., "Jay Sekulow Live!"

KEITH: On top of all that, Sekulow plays drums in a Christian rock band. Marc Kasowitz, who leads Trump's legal team, isn't known to be musically inclined. But a lawyer who used to work with him describes Kasowitz as a general, tough and smart. He has represented Trump on real estate transactions, libel cases and the Trump University fraud lawsuit settled late last year for $25 million. But perhaps his highest-profile case came in the mid-1990s.

Kasowitz represented Liggett, the smallest of the big tobacco companies that broke with the industry and began settling lawsuits. Grant Woods, Arizona's attorney general at the time, announced one of the settlements.

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GRANT WOODS: This tobacco company, Liggett, will now fully cooperate in every sense with these 22 attorneys general as we fight the other four tobacco companies in courts across this country.

KEITH: Liggett's move ultimately forced the other tobacco companies to settle, too. Kasowitz is a successful civil litigator. And his firm takes on cases other firms would shy away from, including going after big financial institutions. But that's not the same kind of law that he will need to do now. Here's Stephen Saltzburg, a professor at the George Washington University Law School.

STEPHEN SALTZBURG: People who do real estate and commercial things really do not have the kind of experience that is useful when you're dealing with any prosecutor and especially someone with the experience of Bob Mueller.

KEITH: One thing Kasowitz does have going for him, says Saltzburg, is the president knows him and respects him.

SALTZBURG: He may be able to say something to the president that the president wouldn't hear from another lawyer.

KEITH: Kasowitz just brought on another lawyer, John Dowd. He's best-known for the Dowd Report, which made the case for Pete Rose's lifetime ban from baseball for gambling on the game. He spoke to NPR two years ago when Major League Baseball denied Rose's request to be reinstated.

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JOHN DOWD: I'm very, very happy and very proud of the commissioner of baseball for protecting the game. In this day and age, protecting the integrity of anything is a big deal.

KEITH: But more to the point, Dowd is a seasoned Washington hand who represented key players in both the Keating Five and Iran-Contra scandals, experience that would be quite valuable if the president is, in fact, being investigated for obstruction of justice by the special counsel. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.