Jul 05, 2022
Trumps legal team lied in both state and federal court, but the attorneys are just fine
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Rudy Giuliani’s law license has been suspended. It’s a satisfying thing to say, but … does it really mean anything? After all, it’s not as if anyone was hiring Giuliani to defend them from murder charges or any other genuine legal issue.
Exactly one time following Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election, Giuliani appeared in a Pennsylvania court to spend about 20 minutes telling a federal judge that he was “a fool” to believe the official results of the election.It was, according to the ABA, the first time Giuliani had been seen in court—as a lawyer, at least—since 1992. As Law.com reported, that “rustiness showed” as Giuliani stumbled through his comments to the judge and couldn’t remember what was in his own motion, or what was not. Giuliani’s motion was, unsurprisingly, “eviscerated” by the judge.
None of which actually mattered. Other than having his name on some paperwork, there was not one thing Giuliani did for Trump that depended on his being an attorney. Believe it or not, any layperson is allowed to book the wrong Four Seasons and apply bulk motor oil to their scalp. Giuliani's job is to rant on Fox and peddle ugly sandals on social media. Having his license suspended means nothing—his income and law license had not even a passing acquaintance.
But Giuliani wasn’t the only member of Trump’s legal team who spent time in court insulting judges, twisting laws, and presenting flat-out lies. What’s surprising is that the rest of them are also just fine. In fact, being a member of Trump’s 1-for-64 team now seems to be a big selling point to the MAGA faithful.
The other big public face of Trump’s legal defense was Sidney Powell. It was Powell who first made claims about how the election had been engineered through the actions of a long-deceased Venezuelan dictator before connecting this plot to the next sinister figure—Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. When Powell first stepped onto the stage and began dragging in Hugo Chavez and claims of overseas servers tallying U.S. votes, the laughter was loud enough to cause Trump to officially oust Powell from the team. But two weeks later, he put her back as “special counsel” in charge of his legal effort.
That’s because Powell had demonstrated a singular knack for confidently stating the most outlandish bullshit as if it were true. Whether it was votes being carried by “mules” or software being mangled by “Italian satellites,” Sidney Powell was there to declare that it was all true, all against Trump, and she was going to keep suing until the world agreed.
A year and a half later, the worst thing that has happened to Sidney Powell is that Texas is considering “disciplinary action” from the state bar. Action that is most likely to amount to a finger-wagging reprimand, if it happens at all.
This is all that has followed Powell not just making almost innumerable false claims in court, but actually altering a document to add a false state seal and a forged signature from Georgia Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger. For this, Powell has so far not suffered even the slightest slap on the wrist. Like Giuliani, she remains in high demand in MAGA circles and is a frequent guest on right-wing media from podcasts to broadcasts.
Despite her clearly illegal actions, and the still-pending lawsuit against her and Giuliani from Dominion Voting Systems, Powell is doing fine. In fact, she’s been acting as a funding source for defendants charged in the January 6 insurrection. That includes funding the legal defense of Oath Keeper members facing charges of seditious conspiracy.
As Mother Jones reported in June, providing a legal defense for Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs is just one of the instances that have brought Powell back to the attention of the House select committee on Jan. 6. As that committee moves to the next hearing, which will focus on how groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers were recruited to direct Trump’s mob and incite violence, Powell’s name may well come up again. That’s because Powell is at the head of a group that appears to be putting a lot of money into both the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. How that money relates to any agreements made between Trump’s team and these white supremacist groups is something likely to be explained in that next hearing.
But in most cases, Powell’s job on Trump’s staff was no different than that of Giuliani: Create confusion, make unfounded charges, keep anger levels high. It was really other attorneys who had the task of marching into court and slapping down a bunch of unfounded lies on the bench.
How are those folks doing? As Politico notes, they’re also just dandy.
Attorney Juli Haller defended a claim in Michigan court that directly invoked “vote counts were likely manipulated by a computer algorithm developed by allies of deceased Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez.” The failed lawsuit, which included equally false evidence and inaccurate descriptions of witness testimony, was dismissed as baseless. Heller earned a “blistering rebuke” from the judge who declared the whole thing a “historic and profound abuse of the judicial process.”
The judge recommended that Haller be disbarred. She hasn’t been. In fact, Haller is one of those who is out there acting as a defense attorney for the Oath Keepers defendants charged with seditious conspiracy. She has, according to Politico, become the “go-to attorney for MAGA extremists” and is lining up new clients. She’s just one of many.
In total, at least 16 lawyers who represented plaintiffs in five federal lawsuits promoting Trump’s baseless election fraud claims in the key battlegrounds of Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin and Arizona remain in good standing or have no record of disciplinary action with their respective bar associations or licensing authorities, according to a POLITICO review.
These are attorneys who went into court filing documents that they knew at the time were lies. An internal memo, prepared by Trump’s own communication team, reviewed the claims that were included in these lawsuits and included a thorough debunking of claims about Dominion’s voting machines, the allegations of hardware connected to the internet, and the claims about political connections of the companies involved. Including Hugo Chavez. The lawsuits continued to include these claims.
They didn’t go to court on documents later discovered to have errors. They went to court and defended documents they knew were lies from the outset. At least one of these lawsuits involved a forged election document including a false state seal and a false signature from a state official.
That all of these attorneys are still licensed to practice a year and a half after Jan. 6 is a tragic indictment of state bar associations as a means of regulating legal practice. None of these people should be defending people who were involved with Jan. 6.
But some of them should certainly be defendants.
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Commentary | Opinion: President Biden, where is the action for Austin Tice?
Ten years. An American, a veteran U.S. Marine, a man who became a foreign correspondent so that his fellow Americans would know what was happening in Syria, has been missing for 10 years.Tony Hunter is chairman and CEO of McClatchy (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
President Joe Biden knows about Austin Tice. So did President Donald Trump and President Barack Obama. Some of them engaged; none of them with apparent results.
Trump’s team said it had evidence Tice, who worked as a freelance correspondent for McClatchy before his capture, was alive and sent its hostage envoy to Damascus to gather information about him.
Biden’s team — after some prodding — agreed to allow Austin’s parents, Debra and Marc Tice, to meet with the president in early May.
In that meeting, the Tices say, the president asked his team to get a meeting with the Syrians and find out what they want and to work with them to get Austin released. Three months later, and little has changed.
President Biden issued a statement this week calling on Syria to bring an end to Austin’s captivity and to work with his administration to bring him home.
“There is no higher priority in my Administration than the recovery and return of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad,” the statement read. “We must name them, keep them in our hearts and minds, and make recovery and return a priority.”
Statements like these are encouraging, but words do not amount to action. We need to see actions and results.
If the U.S. government has evidence of Austin’s whereabouts and circumstances, it is beyond time to pull out all the stops to reach a solution. That starts with direct engagement with the Syrian government — not working through intermediaries or back channels.
For a decade, Austin Tice has been missing from family gatherings, from holidays and celebrations — from moments big and small. As a father and grandfather, my heart breaks for Debra and Marc Tice. They deserve better from their president, from this government.
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And to President Biden, step up and insist your team find a pathway to Austin’s release. Bring Austin Tice home.
Tony Hunter is chairman and CEO of McClatchy, a local news company that publishes in 30 communities across the United States.