As a heavy hitting New York lawyer, Marc Kasowitz has stepped in to help Donald Trump navigate predicaments ranging from divorce to bankruptcy, allegations of sexual harassment and fraud.
Now, President Trump is giving the $1,500-an-hour attorney a new assignment as his private counsel in the probe of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. His hiring was first reported by Fox Business and ABC News.
The 64-year-old Kasowitz fits into the pattern of other Trump appointees as somebody within the president’s comfort zone who has proven his loyalty over the years. However, he has less Washington experience than others who were reportedly under consideration.
Kasowitz is the founding partner of Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP, a law firm whose partners have included David Friedman, Trump’s former bankruptcy lawyer who now serves as his ambassador to Israel. Former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, now special counsel to the firm, is under consideration as director of the FBI—although Kasowitz’s role as Trump’s attorney might preclude such an appointment on conflict-of-interest grounds.
The son of a scrap yard dealer from New Haven, Conn., Kasowitz is a graduate of Yale College and Cornell Law School. His official law firm profile quotes from various profiles in which he was alternately described as a “heavy hitter,’’ “powerhouse,” “uberlitigator” and “the toughest of the tough guys.”
The American Bar Assn. Journal reports that he bills $1,500 per hour.
I’ve never seen a president who had to hire defense counsel so early in his term. This is unprecedented and abnormal.
Kasoswitz’s specialty is complex financial litigation, sometime suing and at other times defending large Wall Street firms, insurance and real estate companies. In a departure from his customary work in financial litigation, Kasowitz has also represented Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly against allegations of sexual harassment.
He represented the tobacco company Liggett Group, which reportedly introduced Trump to his firm. And he represented the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in a civil case involving the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which the Port Authority owned.
The law firm helped Trump restructure debt when his casinos entered bankruptcies. Kasowitz sued successfully to keep records sealed from Trump’s divorce from first wife, Ivana; he was less successful suing an author who questioned Trump’s net worth. His firm also represented Trump in fraud claims brought against Trump University by the New York state attorney general.
“Obviously they know each other. He has represented the president for many, many years. He knows how to deal with Donald Trump and obviously has Trump’s trust and respect,’’ said John B. Quinn, the name partner in Los Angeles-based Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, who has known Kasowitz for 20 years.
Although Kasowitz does not specialize in criminal law, “I think of him as a broad-gauged business litigator and these days, from time to time, when you are involved in business litigation there is a white-collar criminal aspect to it,’’ Quinn said. He added: “I don’t know that anybody knows that this situation calls for a criminal lawyer.’’’
During the presidential campaign, Kasowitz fought unflattering coverage in the news media. He threatened the New York Times with a lawsuit for publishing information about Trump’s 1995 tax returns and wrote a letter to the newspaper complaining about an article about women who claimed to have been groped by Trump, complaining that it was “reckless, defamatory and constitutes libel per se.”
Kasowitz also is representing OJSC Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, in a lawsuit brought in U.S. District Court in New York charging that it raided the assets of a competitor. The bank does not appear to be directly involved in the probe of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
Former FBI Director Robert Muller was appointed last week as a special counsel to investigate whether campaign staff colluded with the Russians to interfere in the presidential election.
It is not unusual for a president to hire private counsel, although more commonly the lawyers have handled routine matters such as book royalties and tax returns, said Norm Eisen, former White House ethics counsel and co-founder of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
“I’ve never seen a president who had to hire defense counsel so early in his term. This is unprecedented and abnormal, to have a president who has to worry about obstruction of justice charges instead of governing the country,’’’ said Eisen.
The president’s private counsel cannot be paid with government funds. In the past, presidents have raised money through legal defense funds, or under some circumstances have used campaign funds. In this case, Eisen said, it is expected that Trump will pay personally.
“Given that you have a person of great wealth who has a pre-existing relation with this attorney, it is probably most expeditious for Trump to pay himself,’’ said Eisen.