As It Happens

Trump's pick for Russia-probe attorney 'strange,' says journalist who faced him in court

Trump's new lawyer in the Russia probe has been described as the "toughest lawyer on Wall Street," but a journalist who once faced him in court says otherwise.
Marc Kasowitz is the latest lawyer to join U.S. President Donald Trump's legal team as the Russian investigations ramp up. (Keith Bedford/Reuters)

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Marc Kasowitz, the latest lawyer to join U.S. President Donald Trump's legal team as investigations into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election ramp up, has been described as an "uberlitigator" and the "toughest lawyer on Wall Street."

Kasowitz has represented Trump repeatedly throughout his career, including during the Trump University fraud case, which ended in January with a $25-million settlement from the president. He is also representing the Russian state-run Sberbank in an ongoing fraud lawsuit.

But author and journalist Timothy O'Brien, who has faced off against Kastowitz before, says he's not so tough.

O'Brien was the target of a libel lawsuit by Trump for his 2005 book TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald, in which he estimated the business mogul's net worth at about $250 million, rather than the $6 billion the business mogul claimed at the time. A New Jersey court eventually tossed out that lawsuit. 
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Kastowitz has not responded to As It Happens' request for comment, but O'Brien spoke with host Carol Off about his experience with the president's longtime attorney.

Carol Off: What was it like to  face off against Mr. Kasowitz?

Tim O'Brien:  At one point, I was doing a book reading in Manhattan and Marc Kasowitz personally appeared at the reading. This was before they sued me.

It's a breach of, I think, legal ethics at a minimum to approach someone who's ultimately going to be a defendant in a case you're filing, but he came up to me at a book reading and described himself to me as a non-fiction writer, and he just wanted to say hello, and then he left.

CO: He describes himself as one of the most feared lawyers in the United States. How tough is he?

TO: I don't know that that's actually true that he's one of the most feared lawyers in the United States. The best lawyers in the United States are the ones who are feared and respected because they're talented. I don't know that he's in that category.

CO: We know that the White House has a legal office, has many lawyers at the president's disposal. Why would Donald Trump retain his own counsel?

TO: Donald Trump is retaining his own counsel for the same reason I imagine many people in the White House are retaining their own council, which is that they're in the midst of an investigation that is essentially life-threatening to the White House. 

They're going to get subpoenaed, and they're going to have to produce records, and they're all going to wind up in a place where they may have divergent interests, everyone in the White House, in terms of protecting themselves — and that includes the president.

CO: Is Mr. Kasowitz the right lawyer?

TO: This is a subjective point of view, but I don't think it's a wise choice. Not because of any of my history with Marc Kasowitz, but simply that Marc Kasowitz has no experience as a constitutional lawyer or being involved representing people at the scrutiny of a congressional investigation or a Department of Justice investigation. It's just not in his wheelhouse.

Trump has repeatedly turned Kasowitz to represent him legal matters. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

CO: Is it possible that he wants Mr. Kasowitz because he wants to protect himself from the kind of coverage that he's getting?

TO: Marc Kasowitz had very little experience doing libel law when he filed the case against me for Trump and he got severely overmatched in court and Trump lost that case.

I don't think the media coverage of the White House is going to be affected by the fact that Marc Kasowitz is in there. He's the president of the United States. He can't run around threatening to sue every media outlet that writes about him, and I don't see Marc Kasowitz as being brought in for that reason.

CO: Mr Kasowitz himself has ties to the Sberbank of Russia. Is that problem?

TO: It's absolutely an issue, because Sberbank​ isn't just any bank. It's the largest state-owned bank. It's controlled by the Kremlin in Russia.

So you have someone coming in as an attorney who has a relationship with a bank that is close to the Kremlin at a time when the president is the subject of an investigation about whether or not his campaign colluded with the Kremlin.

The optics of it are strange.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more, listen to our full conversation with Tim O'Brien.