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“Continually losing”: Experts say Trump’s pressure on lawyer to be aggressive is badly backfiring

“Continually losing”: Experts say Trump’s pressure on lawyer to be aggressive is badly backfiring
“Continually losing”: Experts say Trump’s pressure on lawyer to be aggressive is badly backfiring

If Donald Trump believed he was likely to emerge victorious from the first ever criminal case involving a former president, chances are he would not be attacking his judge, his judge’s daughter or the jurors that will decide his fate. But perhaps all the Truth Social rage-posting is just for public consumption, the all-hours missives signaling his disdain for the process and a courtroom that’s too damn cold.

Well, probably not: If Trump were confident that he remains above the law, he would not also be privately raging against his own lawyer. As The New York Times reported Tuesday, the former president has been doing so since just about the start of his hush-money trial, suggesting he’s none too confident about the verdict expected in May.

Todd Blanche, the lawyer in question, quit his previous firm to represent the 77-year-old Republican. And he has at times seemed to behave just as the former president would like, refusing to back down in the face of case law and a plain reading of Judge Juan Merchan’s gag order, asserting at a contempt hearing this month that there’s nothing wrong with posting broadsides against witnesses.

But being the swaggering attorney that Trump seems to want – Blanche has also insisted that the loser of the 2020 election continue to be referred to as “President Trump” — has also made him lose face, his client watching as Judge Merchan told Blanche he was “losing all credibility” with the court. Trump was also there Tuesday morning to see that Blanche’s credibility-straining defense didn’t stop him from being found in contempt.

According to the Times, in recent weeks “the former president has complained repeatedly about him,” complaining that he “has not been following his instructions closely, and has been insufficiently aggressive.”

It doesn’t help that Blanche has sought to tamp down on Trump’s own misbehavior. In the trial’s first week, NBC News reported that Trump was “openly flouting” a courtroom prohibition on using his phone. “Blanche just told him to stop and Trump tucked the phone in his pocket while looking annoyed.”

Observers have noted that Blanche has enjoyed a reduced role as the trial has gone on. Last week, it was one of Trump’s other attorneys, Emil Bove, who led the cross-examination of former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker. That itself isn’t necessarily unusual – Trump has a small team of lawyers, and Blanche remains a big, visible part of it – but The Guardian’s Hugo Lowell commented that the timing is noticeable, coming not just after a contempt hearing that went badly but an opening statement that was riddled with sustained objections.

“That wasn’t a great look in front of Trump,” Lowell said in an appearance on MSNBC. Since the contempt hearing, “Blanche has taken a backseat,” he noted, possibly of Blanche’s own choosing. “I wonder if part of that is because he wants to reduce the visibility that he has in front of the judge and continually losing things in front of the judge, in front of Trump,” he said.

Lowell contrasted that with Trump’s classified documents case in Florida, where Blanche is also representing him. There, he said, Trump and Blanche “are always laughing and joking and passing notes,” a commentary, perhaps, on how that case, before the Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon, is proceeding more to the former president’s liking.

The problem for Blanche is that Trump wants a Roy Cohn, referring to his former attorney who also represented mob bosses, but does not respect anyone who could actually serve that role, according to Harry Litman, a former federal prosecutor. “Even when a mob boss is under indictment and goes to see his Roy Cohn, Roy Cohn says, ’Shut up and listen to me now. I know what needs to happen,'” Litman told MSNBC. “They can’t do that with Trump.”

The question going forward is whether Blanche, himself a former federal prosecutor, focuses on pleasing his client in the near term – by indulging his rage with courtroom diatribes of his own, for example – or seeks, whatever the odds against him, to control Trump’s outbursts and focus on making a good impression before jurors, at the possible cost of looking weak before the one man who may or may not pay his legal bills.

Ty Cobb, a lawyer who worked for the Trump White House, previously told Reuters that it’s not easy to represent the former president. He urged Blanche to remain aware of legal ethics – other Trump attorneys, like John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani, have been disciplined for running afoul of them – and to avoid falling prey to Trump’s “base desires.”

“The real challenge for him,” Cobb said, “is how to do this without losing his dignity and reputation.”

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