Donald Trump’s legal team for months has weathered deep distrust and interpersonal conflict that could undermine its defense of the former president as the criminal investigation into his handling of classified documents and obstruction of justice at Mar-a-Lago nears its conclusion.
The turmoil inside the legal team only exploded into public view when one of the top lawyers, Tim Parlatore, abruptly resigned two weeks ago from the representation citing irreconcilable differences with Trump’s senior adviser and in-house counsel Boris Epshteyn.
But the departure of Parlatore was the culmination of months of simmering tensions that continue to threaten the effectiveness of the legal team at a crucial time – as federal prosecutors weigh criminal charges – in part because the interpersonal conflicts remain largely unresolved.
It also comes as multiple Trump lawyers are embroiled in numerous criminal investigations targeting the former president: Epshteyn was recently interviewed by the special counsel, while Parlatore and Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran testified to the grand jury in the classified documents inquiry.
The turmoil has revolved around hostility among the lawyers on the legal team who have come to distrust each other as well as their hostility directed at Epshteyn, over what they regard as his oversight of the legal work and gatekeeping direct access to the former president.
In one instance, the clashes became so acute that some of the lawyers agreed to a so-called “murder-suicide” pact where if Parlatore got fired, others would resign in solidarity. And as some of the lawyers tried to exclude Epshteyn, they withheld information from co-counsel who they suspected might brief him.
The infighting eventually reached the point at which some of the lawyers started to believe the biggest impediment to defending Trump might just be the distrust and interpersonal conflict, rather than someone like Parlatore deciding to cooperate with prosecutors.
In fact, the legal team is said to be confident that Parlatore will not flip on Trump after he told the grand jury hearing evidence in the case last year that Trump gave him free rein to search for any remaining documents at his properties last year, according to a transcript of his testimony.
But an eventual attempt to remove Epshteyn from the case ended in failure, and Epshteyn remains a trusted member of Trump’s inner circle. The months of worsening relations that led to that moment were described to the Guardian by six people familiar with the situation. [Continue reading…]