President Donald Trumps longtime personal attorney is the subject of a complaint filed by a watchdog group Thursday with the disciplinary body in charge of Washington attorneys, allegedly for dispensing legal advice to unrepresented White House staffers, a violation of bar rules and legal ethics.
Campaign for Accountability, a government ethics group, filed the complaint with the District of Columbia Court of Appeals’ Office of Disciplinary Counsel in response to a story in Sundays New York Times that said Marc Kasowitz, who has represented Trump for 15 years, told presidential aides they did not yet need to hire lawyers in response to special counsel Robert Muellers Russia investigation.
Read: Who Is Marc Kasowitz? Trump Defended By Personal Lawyer Following Comey Hearing
By telling White House aides they did not need to hire lawyers, Kasowitz dispensed legal advice to people who not only werent his clients, but whose interests in the coming legal storm might be contrary to the presidents, the complaint alleges. The complaint, which asks the office to open an investigation, comes as Muellers investigation reportedly has expanded to examine whether the president attempted to obstruct justice.
It was really concerning to read he was providing legal advice to White House staffers, Daniel Stevens, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability, told International Business Times. Stevens is an alumnus of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics In Washington, the watchdog group that filed suit against the president just days after his inauguration over his foreign business dealings.
They werent his clients and they might take heed of that advice and it might not be in their best interest. [Kasowitz] needs to be held accountable for giving that advice, Stevens said.
The D.C. bar, as well as the American Bar Associations model rules, which have been adopted by all 50 states and the District of Columbia, forbid attorneys from giving legal advice to people who dont have lawyers, other than recommending they retain counsel, if the interests of such person are or have a reasonable possibility of being in conflict with the interests of the lawyers client.
Kasowitzs discussions with White House staff reportedly bypassed White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II, a departure from previous protocol that worried former attorneys who have held that position.
“The presidents private lawyer is representing only his interests, not the interests of the United States government or the individual interests of the White House staff, Robert F. Bauer, who was White House counsel under President Barack Obama, told the Times.
The White House declined to comment and directed IBT to send questions to Kasowitz, who did not respond to IBTs inquiries. A spokesperson for Kasowitz previously said the Times categorization of the meeting was inaccurate, but, according to the Times, would not specify how.
Read: Trump Calls Comey A ‘Leaker,’ Says He Is Open To Testifying Under Oath Against Him
Campaign for Accountability copied the complaint to the New York State Bar. Bar. Court records indicate Kasowitz is not a member of the D.C. Bar but is a member of the New York Bar. The committees in D.C. and New York that evaluate complaints would not confirm they received the complaint, as complaints against attorneys are confidential unless a complaint ends in disciplinary action, which can run the gamut from requiring attorneys take continuing education classes to disbarment.
The Committee on Character and Fitness for Manhattan and the Bronx, which has jurisdiction over Kasowitz’s law practice, told IBT that Kasowitz has never been disciplined by the courts for misconduct since becoming a member of the New York Bar in 1978.
Trump hired Kasowitz to represent him in all matters connected to the Russian investigation at the end of May, shortly after the Justice Department tapped Mueller as special counsel.
After FBI Director James Comey testified to a Senate panel June 7 about his interactions with Trump, Kasowitz attacked Comey and defended Trump at the press.
From before this president took office to this day, it is overwhelmingly clear that there have been and continue to be those in government who are actively attempting to undermine this administration with selective and illegal leaks of classified information and privileged communications, Kasowitz said. Mr. Comey has now admitted that he is one of these leakers.
Trumps legal team has said it is planning on filing a complaint against Comey for leaking conversations with the president. The team initially planned to file the complaint this week, but the legal teams spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday the complaint would most likely be filed next week. Its unclear with which office in the Justice Department, which oversees the FBI, the legal team will file the complaint.
Kasowitz has represented Trump in a variety of matters since the turn of the century, including defending the president in the Trump University lawsuit, keeping the presidents divorce records sealed, restructuring Trump casino bondholder debt and suing a Trump biographer in 2009 for citing unnamed sources claiming the real estate mogul wasnt actually a billionaire.
ProPublica has reported Kasowitz bragged to friends about convincing Trump to fire Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Brahara, who was investigating Tom Price, Trump’s secretary of health and human services, at the time of his firing.
Kasowitzs firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, employs former Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, whom Trump briefly considered for FBI director after he fired Comey. Trump tapped Kasowitzs partner, David Friedman, to serve as ambassador to Israel prompting the firm to change its name (until late March, Kasowitzs firms name was Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman). In addition to Trump, Kasowitz also represents Russias largest bank, Sberbank, which counts the Russian government as a majority shareholder.
Vice President Mike Pence has also retained counsel to represent him in the Russia inquiry, the Washington Post reported Thursday. Pence hired Richard Cullen, a former U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, a Pence spokesman confirmed to the Post.