Well, that was quick.
Last week, Donald Trump’s legal team announced that it would add Joseph diGenova, a former United States Attorney who spent the last several months touting pro-Trump conspiracy theories on Fox News, to the ranks of lawyers representing Trump in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. By Sunday, however, diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing, were off Trump’s team — allegedly due to a conflict of interest.
Sekulow isn’t a bad attorney — indeed, within his narrow sphere of expertise, he has an impressive list of accomplishments. The president’s chief lawyer argued a number of cases before the Supreme Court, mostly for causes advancing a religious conservative agenda. One of Sekulow’s two charities, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), was founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson as a Christian conservative counterweight to the ACLU.
But Sekulow’s business model bears more resemblance to Trump University than it does to an ordinary legal non-profit. Between 1998 and 2011, according to an investigation by The Tennessean’s Bob Smietana, two Sekulow-run charities “paid out more than $33 million to members of Sekulow’s family and businesses they own or co-own, according to the charities’ federal tax returns.” That includes “$2.74 million in private jet lease payments to companies owned by Jay Sekulow and his sister-in-law, Kim Sekulow,” and $15.4 million to a law firm co-owned by Jay.
Sekulow’s career includes stints as a tax attorney, as a conservative radio host, as the general counsel for Jews for Jesus, as an adviser to President George W. Bush on the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts, and as “the 13th-highest-paid executive of a charitable organization in the United States,” according to Legal Times’ Tony Mauro. Sekulow also plays the drums.
But his resume is also short on the kind of high-level criminal law experience one would ordinarily expect to find in a lawyer leading the president of the United States’ legal team against a massive criminal investigation led by a former FBI Director.
Trump reportedly reached out to lawyers of the sort that would normally represent a major political figure in such an investigation — including two former solicitors general — but the president has struggled to find top attorneys willing to represent him. As one lawyer told Yahoo News last June, “the concerns were, ‘The guy won’t pay and he won’t listen.‘”