After Trump was indicted in DC, the speculation — informed and otherwise — went to his possible defense strategies. “Delay delay delay” was an early one, following his increasingly successful efforts to do so in the Mar-a-Lago case before Judge Cannon. Judge Chutkan, however, is no Judge Cannon, and she has been pushing hard to move things along briskly. Trump sycophants have been putting some trial balloons out there, to see what might fly with the base, if not with the court, such as cries of “Free Speech!” and “First Amendment!” which pointed to a possible defense strategy. Another was the claim that Trump was relying on the advice of counsel, and thereby cannot be held liable.
That last one I found rather . . . what’s the correct legal term of art? Oh yes . . . silly.
White House Counsel Pat Cippolone told Trump that his claims of fraud were silly. He was more polite about it, but that’s what his advice boiled down to. Trump’s AG, DAG, Acting AG, head of OLC, and numerous other lawyers at the DOJ told Trump that his claims of fraud were silly. Christopher Krebs, a lawyer and the first head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS told Trump that his claims of fraud were silly for multiple reasons. DNI John Ratcliffe (per Cassidy Hutchinson) said Trump’s claims were silly and dangerous.
But apparently the advice of all these lawyers he appointed to positions in his own administration wasn’t enough for Trump, because Rudy et al. said all these lawyers were wrong.
Out in the states, there were other lawyers weighing in, too. Ryan Germany, the general counsel to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, told him that his claims about fraud in Georgia were silly. Some of Trump’s own lawyers in Pennsylvania and Arizona withdrew from representing Trump before the courts in their states, which is a strong sign that their client would not listen to them and take their advice that his claims were silly. Then more of his PA lawyers did the same. Even the lawyers who stayed on to represent Trump in these election cases told the judges in their cases that Trump’s claims of fraud were silly, as there was no evidence to back up those claims.
But apparently the advice of all these lawyers wasn’t enough for Trump, either.
Which brings us to the judges. State judges and federal judges. Trial judges and appellate judges. The justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. In more than five dozen separate cases, the rulings issued by all these courts said that as a matter of law, Trump’s claims were silly. Let’s let US Judge Matthew Brann of the Middle District of Pennsylvania speak for the all lawyers who wear the black robes, who passed judgment on one or more of Trump’s claims. As Brann wrote in the Introduction to his ruling in DONALD J. TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT, INC., et al. v. KATHY BOOCKVAR, et al.:
In this action, the Trump Campaign and the Individual Plaintiffs (collectively, the “Plaintiffs”) seek to discard millions of votes legally cast by Pennsylvanians from all corners – from Greene County to Pike County, and everywhere in between. In other words, Plaintiffs ask this Court to disenfranchise almost seven million voters. This Court has been unable to find any case in which a plaintiff has sought such a drastic remedy in the contest of an election, in terms of the sheer volume of votes asked to be invalidated. One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption, such that this Court would have no option but to regrettably grant the proposed injunctive relief despite the impact it would have on such a large group of citizens.
That has not happened. Instead, this Court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence. In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state. Our people, laws, and institutions demand more. At bottom, Plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Therefore, I grant Defendants’ motions and dismiss Plaintiffs’ action with prejudice.
Short Judge Brann: Mr. Trump, you’re being silly. Go away, and don’t bring this crap into my courtroom again.
So back to the case before Judge Chutkan. If Trump’s team tries to raise the “reliance on the advice of counsel” defense, I would hope that Jack Smith and his team would run through the list of each one of the Trump administration lawyers who told Trump his claims were silly, and each one of the judges who ruled that as a matter of law, these claims were silly, and ask whoever is representing Trump one simple question: how many MORE lawyers need to tell Trump he’s wrong before he accepts their conclusions?
Which brings me to the final question asked at Trump’s infamous July 2018 press conference alongside Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
Jonathan Lemire: Thank you. A question for each President. President Trump, you first. Just now, President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did. What – who – my first question for you, sir, is, who do you believe? My second question is, would you now, with the whole world watching, tell President Putin – would you denounce what happened in 2016? And would you warn him to never do it again?
Donald J. Trump: So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven’t they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I’ve been wondering that. I’ve been asking that for months and months, and I’ve been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know, where is the server? And what is the server saying? With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me – Dan Coats came to me and some others – they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.
I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have – I have confidence in both parties. I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? Where are those servers? They’re missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails? Thirty-three thousand emails gone – just gone. I think, in Russia, they wouldn’t be gone so easily. I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails. So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. And what he did is an incredible offer; he offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer. Okay? Thank you.
Given a choice between believing the conclusions of every US intelligence agency on Russian interference in the 2016 election on the one hand and the extremely strong and powerful denial by the leader of Russia on the other, Trump chose Putin.
Can you see why Helsinki came to my mind?
Trump has a pattern when it comes to getting advice from others, that revolves around two immutable statements:
- Trump wants advice that supports his current thinking, OR advice that will provide him some kind of immediate or future benefit.
- Trump does NOT want advice that tells him he is wrong about something, that he lost a court case or election, or that he otherwise failed.
When confronted by failure, Trump will seize on anything that suggests even the slimmest possibility of ultimate success.
Again, look at Helsinki. Sure, the unanimous conclusion of the US intelligence community was that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, but if Trump accepted that conclusion in public, while standing next to Putin, any hope Trump had of a grand Trump Tower Moscow (something he had worked on for years) would be gone. Also, if Putin held some kind of compromising information on Trump (a conclusion that Marcy leaned toward in her post on the press conference), Putin would surely release it. The result of backing the US IC would be immediate harm and future failure for Trump. Not good.
Would this loss and damage be outweighed by some other benefit, like being seen as the heroic leader of the US intelligence community? Hardly. In Trump’s eyes, these were Deep State folks who were out to get him, and even if he accepted their advice, they’d never accept him as their leader, and he’d piss off his other supporters who had been backing him against the IC. Also not good. Thus, Trump’s answer to Lemire’s question was simple: I believe Putin.
Faced with a mountain of evidence against him, either in Helsinki or in courtrooms across the country, Trump will always reject the advice of those who say definitively that he has lost and cling for his life to the advice of whomever tells him otherwise. Trump lives by the immortal line of Lloyd Christmas: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance . . . Yeah!”
Trump is not seeking out folks like Rudy “Four Seasons Total Landscaping” Giuliani, Sidney “Release the Kracken!” Powell, or any of his other lawyers to guide his legal strategy. He keeps them around because they keep telling him that there’s a chance.
Spoiler alert for Trump and anyone who hasn’t seen Dumb and Dumber: Lloyd’s 1 in a million chance did not come through for him, and he didn’t get the girl.