The resignation of Donald Trump’s chief personal lawyer, John Dowd, brings to mind an aphorism often discussed, but rarely publicly acknowledged, among lawyers: “You can lead a client to the courthouse, but you can’t make him think.”
Dowd, it appears, grew weary of preaching prudence to a man who views impudence as among the cardinal virtues.
Trump is at the center of more than the usual firestorm of controversy. As president, he has legal counsel intended to protect the interests of the presidency as an institution. He also has personal counsel, lawyers focused on protecting his individual interests. What’s lacking in his legal team is any sense of coherence. That is no doubt a function of the fact that Trump brings the ethos of an entertainer to the task of governing.
The president needs to be careful. Few really care about what a television celebrity does. But a president is supposed to be more than a celebrity. A president is supposed to lead his party, and the nation. Everything a president does has political, and legal significance. Rather than looking for a lawyer to serve as his cheerleader, Trump needs to learn to listen to counsel with the courage to tell him “no.”
But the Donald doesn’t listen. He seems incapable of doing so.
A lawyer’s job is to provide advice and counsel to a president. A good lawyer works with a client to identify the client’s interests, and then helps devise a strategy to best accomplish satisfy those interests within the confines of the law. A great lawyer understands the law’s rhythm and can be the difference between success and failure.
But clients set the tone for the attorney-client relationship. A lawyer advises, the client decides. You can’t make a client listen. A man bent of self-destruction can always find the means to succeed.
John Dowd has apparently had enough of the Donald. When the president last week hired another lawyer, Joseph DiGenova, a brash loudmouth who brays on Fox News about the Justice Department’s and FBI’s “manufacturing” of evidence against the president regarding Russian influence over the 2016 presidential election, one suspects Dowd had his fill. Yes, Dowd called last weekend for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to end the Russian investigation; but it seemed that Dowd was mouthing lines he’d been told to mutter.
So Dowd is out.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see Ty Cobb be the next lawyer to decide enough is enough. Cobb has advised that Trump cooperate with Mueller’s investigation. That won’t satisfy DiGenova, who prefers conspiracy theory and “deep state” drama.
As another tumultuous week ends in the Trump’s latest reality show, the president is surrounded by growing, and increasingly complex, legal problems: Mueller wants to chat – the president and his advisers need to take a position of the scope of executive privilege, and to develop a coherent litigation strategy. The president’s incessant Twittering suggests he is incapable of doing so.
Claims of sexual misconduct haunt the man who boasted, and then denied boasting about, his celebrity status and grabbing women by the, well, you know. Claims against him for defamation over his calling accusers liars will advance to discovery and further litigation. His business affairs in Russia are under scrutiny. The extent to which he has, or has not, obstructed justice remains an open question.
The Donald will be lucky to escape impeachment, and, perhaps even prison. He appears to be unacquainted with the concept of truth, and regards inconvenient facts as fake news. He cannot control his temper, his mouth, and his appetites. Wise lawyers would shudder at the thought of putting him under oath. It’s most likely impossible to counsel a man about the dangers of perjury or false statement prosecutions when the keel that anchors a man to common sense and a world of values shared by reasonable people is broken.
Yes, Donald Trump is president. He was elected, whether fairly or not. Some report he was surprised he actually won the election. Perhaps he’d prefer not to govern. Certainly his irrationality and inability to follow the advice of reasonable lawyers suggest that being president of the United States is not among his top priorities.
I know Donald Trump only reads what he agrees with. And I’d wager all I own he does not read this blog. But if anyone has his ear, they ought to whisper, no shout, the following into it: The law is not a game of chance. Good lawyering matters. Find a lawyer you trust then learn to take advice and counsel.
Or just keep running reckless and find yourself out of a job, and, perhaps, in a cell.
We’re growing weary of Donald drama.