Greg FarrellMon, March 15, 2021, 12:31 PM·6 min read
(Bloomberg) — Many top-flight lawyers abandoned Donald Trump during his divisive presidency, but he still has two in his corner as he faces his biggest legal threats.
Alan Futerfas and Marc Mukasey are representing Trump in two separate New York investigations which could lead to a historic prosecution of the former president. Both lawyers have big courtroom wins under their belts and, perhaps most importantly, won’t ditch their client if the political temperature rises.
That’s been a big problem for Trump. Large law firms Morgan Lewis, Seyfarth Shaw and Porter Wright all dumped him amid the outcry over his false claims of a stolen election and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Trump also struggled to attract big-name lawyers and firms during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“We don’t choose to provide or withhold service based on someone’s politics,” said Mukasey, who describes himself as a moderate who has supported both Republicans and Democrats. Both he and Futerfas have their own firms and are unafraid that representing Trump will scare away other clients or law student recruits.
Their loyalty is no doubt welcome as Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s criminal investigation gains momentum. After a lengthy battle, the district attorney recently gained access to eight years of taxes and other business records for Trump and his family company, the Trump Organization Inc. Vance last month signaled the seriousness of the probe of possible tax or insurance fraud by bringing aboard veteran federal prosecutor and former Paul Weiss partner Mark Pomerantz to lead it. Though Vance announced on Friday that he wouldn’t be seeking re-election in November, the case is expected to continue under the next district attorney.
At the same time, New York Attorney General Letitia James is pressing forward with her own probe into whether Trump inflated the value of certain properties to get loans or tax breaks. Futerfas and Mukasey first began working together for Trump in 2019 on another James case, negotiating a $3.8 million settlement of allegations that a 2016 Trump Foundation fund-raiser was used as a campaign event in violation of charity laws.
Both lawyers declined to discuss the cases or defenses they might mount. The Trump Organization also didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Mukasey, a former federal prosecutor, has the higher profile of the two. The son of George W. Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Marc Mukasey has previously represented clients including Sidney Gilman, the Alzheimer’s Disease researcher who testified that he provided inside information to former SAC Capital trader Mathew Martoma, and Frank DiPasquale, the former right-hand man to Bernard Madoff. Fox News founder Roger Ailes was also a client, and Mukasey further burnished his reputation among conservatives with his successful murder defense of Eddie Gallagher, a Navy SEAL whose 2019 war-crimes court-martial became a right-wing cause celebre.
In New York legal circles though, Mukasey is perhaps best-known for being the protege of Rudy Giuliani. Mukasey followed the former New York mayor to two large law firms and served as an adviser on Giuliani’s abortive 2008 presidential bid. As Giuliani’s star rose in Trump World, so did Mukasey’s.
But when Giuliani left their last firm, Greenberg Traurig, in 2019 to become Trump’s personal lawyer, Mukasey didn’t follow. “I wanted to forge my own path,” he said of his decision to instead co-found litigation boutique Mukasey Frenchman Skalaroff LLP.
In fact, Mukasey says he hasn’t spoken to Giuliani for two years and distances himself from his mentor’s most recent work for their mutual client. Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud, alleged in suits filed by Giuliani and other lawyers, were rejected by dozens of courts and Attorney General Bill Barr.
“He went his way and I went mine,” said Mukasey. “I did not, and would not ever, get involved in election-related cases.”
A Juilliard music graduate who still plays bass trombone for an amateur orchestra, Futerfas lacks the conservative ties of his co-counsel. He’s actually donated money largely to Democrats, including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
But Futerfas was one of the first lawyers to come to Trump’s aid as the Mueller probe was getting underway.
Before Trump, Futerfas was best-known for defending organized-crime figures including several associates of New York’s Colombo family in 1990s prosecutions, though he also built a thriving white-collar practice with clients like bond rating agency Egan-Jones and accused JPMorgan Chase hacker Ziv Orenstein.
Futerfas began representing Donald Trump Jr. in the summer of 2017, shortly before the New York Times reported that the president’s son agreed to a meeting the year before with a Russian lawyer who offered to provide damaging information on Clinton. The Trump Tower meeting, which was also attended by Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort, was quickly seized upon by many Trump critics as proof that his 2016 campaign colluded with the Russian government.
Despite the media storm at the time, Futerfas did not believe any laws had been broken. He advised his client to let the investigation proceed. Mueller ultimately concluded the meeting broke no laws, though Trump Jr. declined to be interviewed by the special counsel’s team. Trump said he had no recollection of being informed of the meeting.
“There is always pressure to respond in the moment,” Futerfas said. “I appreciate the fact that they appreciated and welcomed smart and strategic legal thinking.”
Futerfas’s longevity on Trump’s team stands in contrast to the Washington lawyers that cycled through the Mueller probe. In a now-familiar pattern, large firms mostly steered clear of the president, and Trump turned mainly to independent practitioners, many with close ties to the conservative political movement.
Politics wasn’t the only reason lawyers turned down the chance to work for Trump. Many privately voiced concerns about his mercurial nature and willingness to heed legal advice. During his presidency, Trump tended to quickly sour on lawyers who failed to say what he wanted to hear, often replacing them without warning.
Mukasey brushed off the possibility with a metaphor befitting his golf-obsessed client.
“I play the shot I’m standing over right now,” he said, “not what might or might not happen later on the course.