Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Cal.) made an extraordinary statement yesterday that suggests that lawyers representing President Donald Trump should be disbarred: “I don’t know how they can retain their lawyer status, in the comments that they’re making.” Just as I have been highly critical of President Donald Trump’s attacks on Adam Schiff and others, this is a truly outrageous suggestion. These lawyers are performing a key function in our constitutional system in not just representing an accused person but fulfilling a vital role in an impeachment trial. Because Pelosi disagrees with their legal arguments, she insinuates that they should not be licensed attorneys. It is precisely the type of ad hominem attack that Democrats criticize with the President.
Pelosi added that Trump “will not be acquitted” even if he is acquitted — entirely decoupling the Democratic position from either constitutional or ethical norms.
She is not the only person engaging in such low-grade, personal attacks. Harvard Law Professor Larry Tribe denounced Alan Dershowitz as a “charlatan” for his views. Dershowitz denounced another Harvard professor as a “coward” for his criticism.
These are good-faith disagreements over the scope and meaning of the constitutional standard. Moreover, the White House counsel has done an able job in responding to the House, including landing a couple of haymakers on the record. Both sides have had brilliant and not-so-brilliant moments. However, they have all conducted themselves will professionalism and civility for the most part.
Nevertheless, this scurrilous slander has become a favorite of even lawyers on the left. Two days before Pelosi’s comment, Mediaite published a column by lawyer and CNN opinion contributor Dean Obeidallah entitled “If Trump’s Legal Team Continues to Lie in the Senate Trial, They Should Be Disbarred.” The column states “Lawyers — and I am one — are officers of the court and we are held to a higher ethical standard than the average person.” He then lists “facts” that are contested by the White House.
Cipollone and Sekulow have been around long enough to know that not one client — not even the president — is worth destroying your career over. But if they continue down this path, they should be investigated for possible ethics violations. For example, he says
Sekulow served up another statement that does not line up with the facts. He told the Senate jurors that Ukrainian officials were not aware of the pause on military aid “until late August.” In reality, Defense Department official Laura Cooper testified in November as part of the impeachment inquiry that Ukraine officials “were asking about the delay of a U.S. military aid package to their country as early as July 25 — the same day as President Donald Trump’s call with Ukraine’s leader at the center of the House impeachment inquiry.”
However, the White House maintains that the rest of the testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Laura Cooper showed only that an inquiry on the aide was conveyed to her from someone in Ukraine. The White House claims that she stated that she did not recall the details or reason for the query. That is called a disputed fact, not an unethical act.
The effort to attack lawyers for being lawyers in certainly in vogue. I recently wrote a column defending Dershowitz from attacks tied to his past representation of controversial figures. As I noted, Dershowitz was attacked defending unpopular individuals like O.J. Simpson and Jeffrey Epstein. That is what criminal defense attorneys do. They represent accused and often highly unpopular individuals. It is the rankest form of attack to suggest that a lawyer defending a client is somehow tainted by the crimes alleged in the case.
This attack is even more reckless and unfair. In this age of rage, advocates prefer to attack lawyers making the arguments than address the arguments themselves. It is all an attempt to assure readers that they do not have to seriously consider what they are saying.
Members of Congress have previously suggested disbarring Jay Sekulow.
I have on occasion called for bar actions against other lawyers, including former Trump counsel Michael Cohen and former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. They committed both unethical and criminal acts. However, I would have defended both of these men if they faced disbarment based on their legal advocacy. The House Manager have been challenged for statements that are viewed as misleading or false, but it would be equally outrageous to call for the disbarment of Adam Schiff.
Rather than respond to the merits of their arguments, Pelosi elects to discredit their professional standing. Pelosi owes these attorneys an apology for this insulting and unwarranted comment.