David Friedman. (Courtesy photo)
Solidifying the incoming administration’s ties to Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday announced his selection of David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer and one of the firm’s founding partners, to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel.
Friedman’s selection for the post, which is subject to Senate confirmation, follows his role as a close campaign adviser to Trump on the U.S.-Israel relations. Friedman has staked out public positions as a hardline backer of Israel and a supporter of West Bank settlements, earning harsh criticism from more left-leaning Jewish Americans.
Trump’s transition team noted Friedman’s longstanding connections to Israel and said they expect him to maintain a “rock-solid” partnership with the country’s leadership. Friedman echoed that sentiment in a statement.
“I intend to work tirelessly to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region,” Friedman said in the statement. He also suggested Trump would follow through with a campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to the divided city of Jerusalem, which he called “Israel’s eternal capital.”
Kasowitz managing partner Marc Kasowitz said Friday that the reaction to the announcement within his firm has been “hugely positive.”
“This is an enormous honor, and it’s an enormous opportunity for the country. David is a brilliant lawyer,” Kasowitz said. “We think that the president-elect is doing a fantastic job in his selection [of cabinet members] … and we think David fits in perfectly.”
Friedman is head of the firm’s creditors’ rights and bankruptcy practice. He has counted the president-elect as one of his clients stretching back many years. Trump singled out Friedman for praise in a 2004 American Lawyer feature story about the Kasowitz firm, which the then-real estate mogul described as a group of “phenomenal lawyers.”
In 2001, Friedman led a Kasowitz team involved in restructuring work for Trump’s casino holdings in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Friedman and others at the firm also represented Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump in 2010, in bankruptcy-related litigation that stemmed from billionaire Carl Icahn’s attempt to gain control of the Atlantic City casinos.
More recently, Friedman was part of a team that represented hedge fund Harbinger Capital Funds in its efforts to restructure a multibillion-dollar investment in LightSquared Inc., a wireless venture that filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and emerged in 2015.
Despite the business that Friedman has generated, Kasowitz said on Friday that he’s not concerned about the impact of his departure on the firm’s bottom line. He said the bankruptcy group shares client relationships among partners including Friedman, David Rosner, Andrew Glenn and Adam Shiff.
“There really is total congruity with these other partners,” Kasowitz said
Kasowitz also acknowledged that Donald Trump’s pick could boost his firm’s visibility, although he stressed that Friedman’s business ties to the firm would be severed once he assumes the ambassadorship.
“To the extent that one of our founding partners and very dear and close friends has been honored with the opportunity to serve the country … I think that inures to the benefit of the profile and reputation of the firm,” Kasowitz said. “That one of our partners is being asked for such a key role can only be a good thing.”
Beyond restructuring work, the Kasowitz firm has handled other high-profile matters for Trump. It drafted the then-candidate’s response to negative media reports in the midst of the race—including a New York Times article in which two women accused Trump of sexual misconduct, and another Times report that detailed a $916 million loss declared on the real estate mogul’s 1995 tax returns.
Marc Kasowitz also represented Trump when the Times and Gannett Co. Inc. sought to unseal Trump’s divorce papers from his 1990 split with ex-wife Ivana Trump. A Manhattan Supreme Court judge rejected that request in September.
Kasowitz Benson’s ties to pro-Israel advocacy also extend beyond Friedman. Former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, who’s now senior counsel at Kasowitz, helped establish a lobbying group last year tied to the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), which opposed the Iran nuclear deal struck by the Obama administration.