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Growing embarrassment at law firms representing Trump in election proceedings

Like many large law firms, Jones Day, whose roots go back to Cleveland in the late 1800s, boasted of representing controversial clients.

There was Big Tobacco. There was the Bin Laden family. There was even the hated owner of the Cleveland Browns football team as he moved the franchise to Baltimore.

Now Jones Day is the most prominent company representing President Trump and the Republican Party as they prepare to wage a legal war contesting the election results. The work intensifies concerns within the firm about the advisability and wisdom of working for Mr. Trump, according to the firm’s lawyers.

Doing business with Mr. Trump – with his history of inflammatory rhetoric, baseless lawsuits and refusal to pay what he owes – has long caused heartburn among lawyers, contractors, vendors and lenders . But concerns take on new urgency as the president seeks to raise doubts over election results.

Some senior lawyers at Jones Day, one of the nation’s largest law firms, fear he is making arguments that lack evidence and that could help Mr. Trump and his allies undermine the integrity of the U.S. election, according to interviews with nine associates and associates. , who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their jobs.

At another large firm, Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, based in Columbus, Ohio, lawyers held internal meetings to express similar concerns about their firm’s election-related work for Mr. Trump and the Republican Party, according to reports. people in the firm. At least one lawyer resigned in protest.

Already, the two firms have filed at least four lawsuits challenging aspects of the Pennsylvania election. The cases are pending.

The latest salvo came on Monday night, when the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania federal court against the Pennsylvania secretary of state and a number of county election committees. The complaint – filed by attorneys for Porter Wright – alleged there were “irregularities” in voting across the state.

In recent days, Mr. Trump and his allies have attempted to raise money to finance their legal efforts. Some fundraising bodies noted that part of the money donated could be used to pay off existing campaign debts, rather than to fund new legal efforts.

While it’s not clear which law firms will take legal action, Jones Day has been one of Mr. Trump’s most loyal legal advisers.

While Mr. Trump campaigned for the presidency in 2016, Jones Day partner Donald F. McGahn II served as his outside advocate, leading recount fights in critical states. Mr. McGahn then became Mr. Trump’s lawyer in the White House, before returning to Jones Day.

At the time, some senior Jones Day lawyers objected to a close collaboration for a polarizing presidential candidate, according to three associates at the firm. They winced at the sight of Mr. McGahn standing with Mr. Trump on stage after winning the New Hampshire primary in February 2016. A month later, the cabinet held a meeting in its Capitol Hill office with Mr. Trump and Republican lawmakers as he wished. to win the party establishment.

The company’s work for Mr. Trump has also attracted unfavorable public attention. “Jones Day, leave our ballots,” read a mural painted on the street outside the law firm’s offices in San Francisco at the end of last week.

During Trump’s presidency, Jones Day was involved in over 20 lawsuits involving Mr. Trump, his campaign, or the Republican Party, and he worked for the Trump campaign on government investigations into Russian interference in 2016 elections.

The work has been lucrative. Since 2015, Jones Day has received more than $ 20 million in fees from Trump campaigns, political groups linked to Mr. Trump and the Republican National Committee, according to federal records. Jones Day attorneys said this represented only a small portion of the firm’s overall revenue.

In addition to Mr. McGahn, a number of other firm associates have joined the Trump administration. Noel Francisco became Mr. Trump’s first solicitor general. Eric Dreiband is Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice.

Ahead of the 2020 campaign, some Jones Day partners said they need to reassure clients that the company’s representation of Team Trump will not influence the rest of the company’s work, four partners say . Lawyers for the firm have worked to promote gun control and have represented unaccompanied minors, many of whom are detained by the federal government.

But the partners generally swallowed their concerns about the close relationship with Mr. Trump.

Then the president and his allies, in the polls, began to stoke fears about electoral fraud, as part of a larger effort to cast doubt on the integrity of the election.

“Many of the GOP’s litigation issues are meritorious in principle. But the president’s inflammatory language undermines the claim that Republicans are simply seeking to uphold the statutory guarantees necessary to validate the credibility of the results, ”wrote Benjamin L. Ginsberg, longtime Republican election lawyer who left Jones. Day in August, in the Washington Post the following month. .

After the election, as Mr. Trump’s Pennsylvania lead evaporated, Jones Day and Porter Wright asked the Supreme Court to separate all ballots received after November 3. Pennsylvania, they wrote in their brief, “may well determine the next President of the United States.” A prominent Republican lawyer, John M. Gore, helps lead the effort at Jones Day. He previously served as Deputy Attorney General in Mr. Trump’s Justice Department.

On Friday night, Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. ordered Pennsylvania election officials to separate late ballots and not include them in the announced vote count. (The Pennsylvania Secretary of State had previously given the same advice.)

Lawyers for Six Jones Day said that given the small number of late ballots involved in the litigation and the fact that they had already been separated, the main focus of the litigation appeared to be to erode public confidence in the litigation. election results.

Jones Day did not respond to a request for comment.

In recent days, two Jones Day lawyers have said they have faced heckling from friends and others on social media about working at a firm that supports Mr. Trump’s efforts.

A lawyer in Jones Day’s Washington office said the firm risked injury to itself by taking on work that violated the rule of law. “To me, it seems extremely short-sighted,” the lawyer said.

This year, Jones Day received more than $ 4 million in honoraria from Mr. Trump, political groups that back him and the Republican National Committee, according to the latest reports from the Federal Election Committee.

A number of Jones Day’s Democratic and Republican partners have said that while some of their colleagues complained about the Trump relationship, the firm had an obligation to continue to represent long-term clients, even if individual lawyers were not disagree with their policies or tactics. Two partners recalled how Jones Day stayed with Art Modell, the beleaguered owner of the Cleveland Browns, even when there were death threats against firm attorneys and security personnel had to escort Cleveland employees to their cars.

The outcry at Porter Wright, who like Jones Day was founded in the 1800s in Ohio, seems more intense.

Over the past week, the company has filed several lawsuits in Pennsylvania, trying to punch holes in the reliability of the election results on behalf of the Trump campaign and the RNC, among others. Porter Wright received at least $ 727,000 in fees this year from the Trump campaign and RNC, according to federal records.

Over the summer, some attorneys for Porter Wright were dismayed to learn that the firm would represent the Trump campaign in Pennsylvania, according to three current and former employees.

At the forefront of their concerns: how can lawyers, whose profession is founded on the rule of law, represent a person who, in their opinion, has often tried to flout her? A lawyer said he was concerned the cabinet would be asked to try to delay the election. Another said he resigned in response to the decision to represent Mr Trump in Pennsylvania.

In two meetings, Porter Wright associates told company partners they oppose the work of the Trump campaign, according to the three current and former employees. They were told the mission was limited to the Pennsylvania election. This assurance seemed hollow to some participants, as the state could decide the election.

Robert J. Tannous, the managing partner of the company, declined to comment in detail on Mr. Trump’s work. He said: “Porter Wright has a long history of representing candidates, political parties, interest groups and individuals at the local, state and federal levels on both sides of the aisle, and as a cabinet. lawyers will continue to do so.

Kitty Bennett contributed to the research.

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