The investigation into Donald Trump’s campaign’s Russia ties is like a fidget spinner that won’t slow down. So as more and more lawyers revolve around the probes, we decided to take a closer look at who’s who.
The graphic above depicts the lawyers involved as of the first week of July.
Many of the legal relationships highlighted above were set in motion–or at least helped along–by the May 9 firing of former FBI Director James Comey. Since then, Comey’s testimony and other statements have kept news about the Russia investigation buzzing through Washington and targeted on the Oval Office. The question Comey raises: whether the president attempted to obstruct justice on the FBI’s investigation of Russia.
Two days after Comey’s unceremonious departure, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller III to investigate “links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Donald Trump.”
As far as we know, Comey himself does not have a lawyer formally assisting him. Several other players, outlined below, have made their own choice of counsel public. While merely engaging a lawyer—either on the investigators’ or on the defense side—doesn’t indicate guilt or even whether an individual may face charges, it does point to the directions Mueller’s probe may take. The lawyers’ backgrounds and expertise can also signal the nature of the investigators’ inquires.
Donald Trump is represented by Jay Sekulow, John Dowd, Marc Kasowitz and Michael Bowe, and is considering hiring others to his legal team. At this point, Sekulow, of the American Center for Law and Justice and a radio personality, is acting as a pseudo-spokesman. Dowd, retired from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and now at his own firm, is the Washington-centric muscle. Kasowitz and Bowe, both of Kasowitz Benson Torres in New York, have years of insight from their firm’s history of work with Trump. Among the three main lawyers, Sekulow, Dowd and Kasowitz, their experience on white-collar criminal scandal ranges from less frequent (Kasowitz) to well-versed (Dowd). Yet all share a particularly acerbic public persona in line with the president’s.
What could Trump have done to need such legal heft? At this point, Sekulow has said the president is not under investigation, though questions could spiral off of everything from Trump’s reasons to fire Comey to his business ties abroad. Their work already isn’t without conflict—Kasowitz has earned two ethics complaints in New York and Washington, D.C., after he reportedly told White House staffers not to hire their own lawyers.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, is represented by Jamie Gorelick of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr and Abbe Lowell of Norton Rose Fulbright. Kushner is reportedly a subject of the FBI’s investigation because of several meetings he held with Russians, including one with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year. Gorelick has said Kushner will cooperate with federal authorities.
Before this week, Lowell’s name was associated with the law firm Chadbourne & Parke, which merged into Norton Rose on July 1. Lowell’s well-known in D.C. for his criminal defense clients including former U.S. Senator and vice presidential candidate John Edwards, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Lowell’s firm has worked with both Trump entities and with Russian interests before.
Paired with Gorelick, another well-known Washington legal VIP, the two are a powerhouse team. Gorelick previously served as deputy attorney general in the Bill Clinton administration’s Justice Department, then as vice chair of mortgage lender Fannie Mae and as a co-author on the 9/11 Commission report. Gorelick backed Hillary Clinton for president last year and was rumored to be among the choices for the attorney general position if Clinton had won. She’s been among Wilmer’s top brass for more than a decade, particularly focused on regulatory work and the representation of corporate clients in crisis. She originally picked up Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, as clients in January, advising them on ethics and business issues associated with joining the White House.
More recently, questions bubbled up about Gorelick’s work for Kushner since Mueller’s appointment as the special investigator. Mueller previously was a partner at Wilmer and their professional association could be a conflict. (The Justice Department said it was not.)
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is represented by partner Reginald Brown of Wilmer. While Gorelick chairs Wilmer’s regulatory law operation, Brown oversees the firm’s financial institutions practice. Brown formerly worked in George W. Bush’s White House and has not faced the same scrutiny as Gorelick for his ties to Wilmer.
Prior to his brief stint as Trump’s campaign chairman last summer, Manafort spent years working for pro-Russian groups and Putin allies, including former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. He’s being scrutinized by the FBI for his business dealings during the campaign.
Donald Trump Jr. found a lawyer slightly later than the rest. On July 10, the son of the president hired New York white collar attorney Alan Futerfas. Over the weekend prior, the New York Times broke stories on how Trump Jr. had accepted a meeting with a Russian lawyer on the pretense that he could learn damaging information about Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Trump Jr. at first said the meeting was about a policy topic involving U.S. adoptions of Russian babies.
Futerfas runs his own three-lawyer shop in New York and has specialized in defending clients accused of fraud before both New York state and federal prosecutors. He also represented the two daughters of the late exonerated businessman Mark Rich during an investigation of President Bill Clinton’s pardon of the billionaire.
Vice President Mike Pence is represented by Richard Cullen, the chairman of McGuireWoods. Few outside of McGuireWoods can match Cullen and his firm colleagues’ stature in establishment Republican legal defense circles. For instance, the head of McGuireWoods’ white-collar department is seeking Cullen’s old job as attorney general of Virginia, and one of the firm’s highest profile hires in recent years was George Terwilliger III, who fought for George W. Bush’s presidency in the Florida recount after he served under the elder President Bush as Deputy Attorney General. Cullen’s previous criminal defense clients include former FIFA president Sepp Blatter. Cullen also happens to be godfather of one of Comey’s children.
Michael Flynn is represented by Robert Kelner, a political law expert at Covington & Burling. Flynn’s legal needs are among the longest running and most potentially explosive of all involved.
The news broke in early January that Flynn had spoken with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December after the U.S. issued sanctions against Russia for interfering in the 2016 election. Though Flynn initially denied that sanctions were discussed, a deluge of questions followed, and the FBI interviewed Flynn in January, four days after the inauguration. Flynn resigned mere weeks later, and in late March, Kelner said in a statement that Flynn was willing to cooperate with Congressional investigators in exchange for immunity. He had no takers at the time. The Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenaed Flynn for documents in May, to which he complied. Around the same time, federal prosecutors in Virginia issued subpoenas to former associates of Flynn’s. The FBI is reportedly continuing its investigation of Flynn’s business dealings and lobbying efforts.
Trump has defended Flynn throughout, even since his departure from the White House grounds. Comey testified in June that Trump had asked him to drop the Flynn investigation, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats reportedly had a similar interaction with the president.
Kelner’s role is another somewhat confounding piece of the investigations puzzle. Kelner’s expertise is in election and political law—he’s not the Covington lawyer who’d typically be first in line to meet with Justice in a criminal investigation. Who else might? Other ties to Team Trump aren’t obvious. Senior of counsel Michael Chertoff, the Bush administration’s Homeland Security Secretary, opposed Trump during the campaign. The firm’s white-collar department is stacked with lawyers loyal to former Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., who is a Covington partner now and has reminded lawyers at Justice to stay strong despite attacks on their work. The firm also houses two former DOJ Criminal Division heads from the Obama years—Lanny Breuer, who served under Holder from 2009 to 2013, and Mythili Raman, the acting division chief who succeeded him.
Flynn’s former business partner Bijan Kian is represented by Robert Trout of Trout Cacheris. Kian faces scrutiny from the FBI in connection with payments by foreign governments to Flynn’s businesses, though it’s unclear if Kian himself is a target in the investigation. Trout has represented several members of Congress, including former Rep. William Jefferson, D-Louisiana, who famously hid $90,000 in his freezer and was sentenced to 13 years in prison for bribery.
Longtime Trump organization lawyer Michael Cohen is represented by Stephen Ryan of McDermott Will & Emery. Ryan is a former federal prosecutor and served on the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs as general counsel. He’s navigated the ins and outs of congressional investigations for several high-profile clients, including Mylan CEO Heather Bresch during that company’s EpiPen pricing scandal. Ryan also worked with Kushner’s lawyer Lowell in their own firm years ago, then more recently in defending Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, who goes to trial in the fall on corruption charges.
Cohen, who got his start as a personal injury lawyer, is a subject in the FBI’s investigation, and he’s been subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee. In an unverified dossier prepared by a British spy and reportedly corroborated in part by U.S. investigators, Cohen was said to have met with Russian officials overseas, which he denies.
It’s been a hectic year for Cohen aside from the investigation. The corporate counsel hung out his own shingle—on Trump Tower in New York, no less—in late March, then shook hands on a strategic partnership with Squire Patton Boggs.
Jeff Sessions is represented by Charles Cooper of Cooper & Kirk. The two have been friends for decades, so it wasn’t a surprise when Cooper, an appellate specialist who previously ran the Office of Legal Counsel at Justice, helped Sessions prepare for his attorney general confirmation hearing, then withdrew from his own nomination process for a top Trump Justice Department position because of the questioning he witnessed with Sessions.
Cooper supported Sessions when the attorney general testified in June about Comey’s firing and the Russia investigation. Questions ranged from why Sessions was involved in firing Comey after he recused himself from the Russia investigation, to how much he interacted with Russian officials during the campaign and presidential transition.
Cooper confirmed to the National Law Journal on June 20 that he continues to counsel the attorney general. It’s not yet known whether Sessions’s actions have been probed by the FBI. He recused himself in March from any investigations into the Trump campaign.
The final district of the Trump investigations Panem is governed by Robert Mueller III, the former head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 2001 until 2013. He’s called upon at least 13 lawyers to assist him, most moving from other parts of the Justice Department to work on the case. Mueller’s team is stocked with white-collar prosecution veterans and appellate stars.
There’s Michael Dreeben, the longtime criminal law expert from the U.S. Solicitor General’s office who’s argued 100 cases before the Supreme Court, and Elizabeth Prelogar, another SG office lawyer. The team includes several experienced federal prosecutors: Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Zainab Ahmad, well-known for her prosecution of Abid Naseer in 2015 over his role assisting al-Qaeda in failed plans for a bomb attack on the New York City subway; Andrew Goldstein from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, who successfully prosecuted former New York State Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver for corruption; and Aaron Zelinsky, who joined the team after working for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in the U.S Attorney’s office in Maryland.
Jeannie Rhee, also on the team, is another former partner at Wilmer Hale and federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office in D.C. She also served as deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel under Obama. Then there’s Adam Jed of the Civil Division, Brandon Van Grack of the National Security Division and Rush Atkinson of Main Justice’s Fraud Section. (The Washington Post first reported Van Grack, Atkinson and Ahmad’s work on the investigation on July 5.)
Another lawyer on Mueller’s team, Andrew Weissmann, long known in Washington and New York legal circles, had worked as the Justice Department’s criminal Fraud Section chief since 2015. Earlier, he was general counsel at the FBI, working under Mueller. Weissmann is formerly a co-chairman of Jenner & Block’s white-collar practice.
Three other lawyers—Rhee, Aaron Zebley and James Quarles III—joined Mueller’s investigation from private practice, where they worked alongside him at Wilmer from 2014 to this year. Zebley was Mueller’s chief of staff at the FBI, then followed him to Wilmer. Quarles was a longtime Wilmer lawyer, after working on the Watergate investigation in the 1970s and helping to govern Wilmer’s predecessor firm Hale and Dorr. They and Mueller resigned from the firm upon their appointment to the investigation.
Some of the Obama administration’s outgoing officials have acted as witnesses in the slow motion trial pantomime before Congress, which is conducting its own investigations into the Russia matter. Though not depicted in the above graphic, these folks include: Sally Yates, who testified before Congress about her own work for Trump as acting attorney general before he fired her on Jan. 30, former national intelligence director James Clapper, and John Brennan and David Cohen, the former CIA director and deputy director until January. Yates is represented by David O’Neil of Debevoise & Plimpton. Clapper, Brennan and Cohen turned to the former D.C. U.S. attorney and national security lawyer Kenneth Wainstein, who just moved to Davis, Polk & Wardwell.
Trump has several lawyers on his side in addition to the criminal defense work. Donald McGahn of Jones Day serves as White House counsel—meaning he can counsel the office of the president but has no client relationship with the president personally. Lawyers in private practice including tax partner Sheri Dillon of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and Bobby Burchfield of King & Spalding, who handles aspects of the president’s corporate interests as the Trump corporate trust’s independent ethics counsel.
Katelyn Polantz, based in Washington, D.C., writes about government and the business of law. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @kpolantz. Cogan Schneier covers litigation in Washington, D.C. Contact her at email@example.com. On Twitter: @CoganSchneier.