Playbook: Meet Trump’s odd-couple defense team

Playbook: Meet Trump’s odd-couple defense team

With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross

Good morning from Troy, Ohio, where Rachael spent part of the night huddled with her family in a tornado shelter as twisters barrelled through the area. Rachael’s parents lost part of their roof and a few trees, and the garage door is dented, but we’re all safe. And, no, this isn’t an April Fools’ Joke, unfortunately: Severe storms across the Midwest and South left at least seven dead last night, just a week after tornadoes killed 21 in Mississippi.

THE SHOWMAN AND THE TACTICIAN — Across hundreds of petty feuds, countless civil lawsuits, dozens of Hill investigations and two impeachments, former President DONALD TRUMP has been notorious for ignoring the advice of his well-compensated lawyers and instead orchestrating his own defense strategy.

But now that he’s been indicted and faces possible criminal conviction — maybe even jail time — his legal team has more at stake than ever before.

This morning, our Erica Orden has a fun and insightful profile on the pair of veteran Manhattan attorneys representing him in the hush-money case — both who have a history of using what Erica calls “creative gambits” to help their clients. SUSAN NECHELES and JOE TACOPINA, she notes, are “longtime fixtures” in New York’s criminal courts and have been part of Trump’s legal orbit for a while now: Necheles defended the Trump Organization in a criminal tax fraud case that led to a conviction; Tacopina repped DONALD TRUMP JR.’s fiancee, KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE, before the Jan. 6 panel.

The two have radically different styles. “She’s an understated tactician and he’s a colorful showman, ‘bombastic,’ in his own words,” Erica writes, and there’s room for a third — the pair tell her they’re looking to bring on a third attorney familiar with election law.

MORE ON NECHELES: She “once used a ‘divine defense’ on behalf of a developer accused of fleecing ultra-orthodox Jewish clients, telling a jury he had received a blessing from a rabbi to build affordable housing. ‘It was a mitzvah to him, a Hebrew word that means a good deed and an obligation,’ she said. During the trial of a former New York state senator accused of theft, she showed jurors a blown-up image of an apple, while a piece of the fruit sat on the defense table in front of her client. ‘There’s something rotten about this case,’ she told jurors.”

Her potential cross-examination of MICHAEL COHEN, the president’s fixer-turned-accuser, stands to be the linchpin of Trump’s defense, given Cohen’s central role in the case and his uneven history with the truth.

MORE ON TACOPINA: He “helped a rapper named STICKY FINGAZ, who faced a gun possession charge that was later dropped, slip into the courthouse undetected by paparazzi. Tacopina accompanied his driver — who posed as the rapper by donning a hat and sunglasses — through the front entrance while the rapper slipped through another door. Tacopina laughed at the suggestion that he would try to pull a similar stunt with Trump. ‘I have no tricks up my sleeve here,’ he said. ‘This is the Secret Service’s show here, not mine.’”

When Tacopina worked for Guilfoyle, he had her walk out of a deposition with the Jan. 6 panel after Democratic lawmakers showed up for the interview — not just the staff lawyers they expected. (She was later subpoenaed and ultimately testified.) He’s also repped Jan. 6 defendants, including a man convicted of macing Capitol Police Officer BRIAN SICKNICK, who later died of a stroke.

THE STEPBACK: The pair’s real challenge is going to be Trump himself. He’s already called Manhattan DA ALVIN BRAGG an “animal” and “racist,” and, last night, he attacked the judge who will be overseeing the case, New York Supreme Court Justice JUAN MERCHAN, who also oversaw the Trump Org case brought by New York AG TISH JAMES.

Merchan, he wrote, “HATES ME” and “is the same person who ‘railroaded’ my 75 year old former CFO, ALLEN WEISSELBERG, to take a ‘plea’ deal.” More from WaPo

While Trump is well known for ignoring his attorneys and airing his grievances all over social media, Necheles waved off any concerns: “Of course I’ve worked with difficult clients over the years in some cases, and you just try to make them have confidence in you.”

WHAT TO EXPECT TUESDAY: The Trump campaign released a tentative schedule for the former president’s expected surrender. Per Meridith McGraw, Trump “plans to depart his private Mar-a-Lago estate midday on Monday and take his private plane to New York. He then plans to spend the night at his Manhattan penthouse at Trump Tower and then will head to the courthouse early in the morning on Tuesday” ahead of the expected 2:15 p.m. arraignment.

“Over the weekend he will keep his usual schedule — which almost always includes an evening dinner on the club’s patio with his family and associates and golf at his nearby clubs. … His campaign does not have any other public events planned for Monday and Tuesday. Trump, according to his campaign, will be ‘back at it’ on Wednesday. So far, the only major event on his calendar is a speech at the National Rifle Association conference mid-April in Indianapolis.”

More Trump indictment reads …

“AP sources: Trump facing at least 1 felony charge in NY case,” by AP’s Michael Sisak, Colleen Long and Will Weissert

“Trump Campaign Says It Has Raised $4 Million Off Indictment News,” by Bloomberg’s Gregory Korte. Of note: According to the press release from the campaign, “25% of donations came from first-time donors,” and the average contribution was $34.

“The data’s clear: The indictment makes Republicans like Trump more,” by our polling guru Steve Shepard

“‘Delay, delay, delay’: How Trump could push his trial into the heart of campaign season,” by Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney

Thanks for reading Playbook, which hits your inbox every morning rain, shine or natural disaster. Send scoops here: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.

TALKER — POLITICO and The Recast newsletter have published a Power List naming the 40 most influential people on culture, race and politics. There are Republicans and Democrats whose 2022 wins helped their party secure footholds in key battlegrounds. There are advocates driving major court cases — or shaping the public’s reaction to them. There are celebrities who used their platform to challenge the government. And many more.

The Power List spans party affiliations, racial identities and ideologies. Some might ask how we can include Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS on the same list as VP KAMALA HARRIS. Our answer? Whether you love them or hate them, their impact over the last year cannot be denied. Read through the full project online here



1. FOX IN THE DOGHOUSE: “Dominion case against Fox News will go to trial, judge rules, in loss for network,” by ABC’s Lucien Bruggeman and Olivia Rubin: “Fox attorneys sought to have the suit dismissed before trial … Judge ERIC DAVIS shot down Fox News’ arguments and found Dominion’s legal claims compelling enough to present to jurors … Davis also declined to grant a summary judgment in Dominion’s claim that Fox News acted in ‘actual malice,’ … leaving that as a matter for jurors to decide. … ‘The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that [it is] CRYSTAL clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true,’ Davis wrote.”

Fox’s response: “This case is and always has been about the First Amendment protections of the media’s absolute right to cover the news. FOX will continue to fiercely advocate for the rights of free speech and a free press as we move into the next phase of these proceedings.”

2. FETTERMAN LATEST: Sen. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-Pa.) went back home to Braddock after several weeks of inpatient depression treatment at Walter Reed. He put out a remarkable statement yesterday saying that he’s “excited to be the father and husband I want to be, and the senator Pennsylvania deserves,” and that he’ll share more in the future. “I want everyone to know that depression is treatable, and treatment works. This isn’t about politics — right now there are people who are suffering with depression in red counties and blue counties. If you need help, please get help.”

In an excerpt from an interview Fetterman did from the hospital with Jane Pauley, which will air on “CBS Sunday Morning,” he talks candidly about getting into a “downward spiral” after being elected, when he couldn’t get out of bed and lost weight from not eating.

3. WHAT’S NEXT IN THE BIG HEALTH CARE CASE: “Biden administration appeals Texas court decision striking down free Obamacare coverage of preventive care,” by CNBC’s Spencer Kimball: “The case will now go to [the] U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. A majority of the judges on that court were appointed by Republican presidents.”

4. THIS WEEK’S BIG RACE: “How Wisconsin Democrats learned to play hardball in the country’s biggest judicial election,” by Semafor’s Dave Weigel in Madison: “The bluntness of the Democrats’ message in Wisconsin inspired outrage on the right and worried chin-stroking from some liberals, uneasy with the concept of such openly partisan judicial elections. Republicans here warn that ‘the rule of law’ might be replaced by ‘the rule of Janet,’ and that if she wins, hyper-partisan court races will become the norm. [JANET] PROTASIEWICZ and her allies say that they already were, especially in Wisconsin. After Dobbs, which put abortion rights back in the laps of state legislators and courts, the trend only accelerated.”

5. NOT MAKING THE TRIP: “Joe Biden to turn down Coronation invitation,” by The Independent’s Tony Diver, Nick Allen, Camilla Tominey and James Crisp: “Biden will not attend the King’s Coronation next month, The Telegraph understands. The US president is ‘not expected’ to join dozens of heads of state for the event on May 6, according to sources close to discussions, and will send a delegation in his place. America is keen to counter any perception of a snub and show support for the King by sending high-profile representatives, with one possibility under consideration being that JILL BIDEN, the first lady, could attend.”

In case you were wondering: President DWIGHT EISENHOWER did not attend Queen ELIZABETH II’s 1952 Coronation. He sent retired general and former Secretary of State GEORGE MARSHALL in his place.

6. WHAT WENT WRONG: “How a Trump-Era Rollback Mattered for Silicon Valley Bank’s Demise,” by NYT’s Jeanna Smialek: “[T]he picture that is emerging is one in which a slow reaction in 2022 was not the sole problem: Silicon Valley Bank’s difficulties also appear to have come to the fore too late to fix them easily, in part because of the Trump-era rollbacks. By deciding to move banks into large-bank oversight much later, [RANDAL] QUARLES and his colleagues had created a system that treated even sizable and rapidly ballooning banks with a light touch when it came to how aggressively they were monitored.”

7. THE IRA IN ACTION: “As taxpayer service improves, IRS staffers say they’re happier at work,” by WaPo’s Jacob Bogage: “In the near-term, it’s made the tax agency a better place to work … The IRS’s performance has also improved so far this tax season. It processed 2 percent more returns by March 10 than it had at the same point in 2022, and issued 8.5 percent more refunds, two key indicators, experts say, of the agency’s improvement. For taxpayers, that means better IRS phone service and timely refunds … The IRS has also mostly conquered its backlog of paper filings, and is opening its mail on time, a prospect that was unheard of during the 2022 tax season.”

8. KNOWING EVAN GERSHKOVICH: “Evan Gershkovich Loved Russia, the Country That Turned on Him,” by WSJ’s Joe Parkinson and Drew Hinshaw: “Mr. Gershkovich, 31 years old, is the American son of Soviet-born Jewish exiles who had settled in New Jersey. He fell in love with Russia — its language, the people he chatted with for hours in regional capitals, the punk bands he hung out with at Moscow dive bars. … His biography traces [Russian President VLADIMIR] PUTIN’s efforts to rebuild an empire atop the former Soviet Union, a homeland his parents had fled only for their American son to return and wind up in the type of prison they had been taught to fear.”

Related read: “Espionage Charge Adds Hurdle to Freeing a Reporter Detained in Russia,” by NYT’s Michael Crowley, Ivan Nechepurenko and Anton Troianovski

9. TIKTOK ON THE CLOCK: “Congress goes wobbly on TikTok,” by Brendan Bordelon: “[A] Senate bill meant to rein in the company — released with much bipartisan fanfare and a bevy of endorsements earlier this month — is starting to look shakier. … Until this week, the legislation appeared to be sailing ahead. … But key senators are now suggesting they’re ambivalent about RESTRICT. A right-wing backlash to the legislation is building. And top Republicans in the House are claiming the Senate bill goes too easy on TikTok — and are spreading misinformation about it in the process.”

CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 15 funnies

GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Ryan Lizza:

“A Scammer Who Tricks Instagram Into Banning Influencers Has Never Been Identified. We May Have Found Him,” by ProPublica’s Craig Silverman and Bianca Fortis: “OBN, a mysterious fraudster, says he made hundreds of thousands of dollars by exploiting Instagram’s security gaps. He’s eluded Meta and law enforcement, but we followed his trail to Las Vegas.”

“How Did America’s Weirdest, Most Freedom-Obsessed State Fall for an Authoritarian Governor?” by The Atlantic’s Helen Lewis: “A journey through Ron DeSantis’s magic kingdom.”

“How Florida Became America’s GOP Hot Spot,” by WSJ’s Arian Campo-Flores, Alex Leary and Anthony DeBarros: “Once the nation’s biggest swing state, it’s now the power center for conservative policies and dueling Republican White House hopefuls.”

“Putin, Trump, Ukraine: how Timothy Snyder became the leading interpreter of our dark times,” by Robert Baird in The Guardian: “Historians aren’t supposed to make predictions, but Yale professor Timothy Snyder has become known for his dire warnings – and many of them have been proved correct.”

“The Women Are Smart. The Men Are Sincere. And the Ending Is Always Happy,” by Vulture’s Alliso Davis: “Emily Henry cracked the modern romance novel.”

“Kieran Culkin Bares (a Lot of) His Soul,” by Esquire’s Eric Sullivan: “The Succession star is feeling introspective as the HBO series that reignited his career comes to a close. On a long ferry ride, and over several rounds of drinks, he talks about where Roman ends and Kieran begins.”

“Nick Cave on the Fragility of Life,” by The New Yorker’s Amanda Petrusich: “The singer-songwriter believes that we are deeply flawed, impermanent creatures who can sometimes do extraordinary things.”

“Why 500,000 People Are Lining Up to Watch Paint Dry,” by Outside’s Tom Vanderbilt: “Meet YouTube’s quiet superstar: Martijn Doolaard, a semi-hermit Dutchman who has turned the slow, steady process of Alpine-cabin restoration into a masterpiece of performance art.”

“It’s a Really Weird Time to Be an Umpire,” by Devin Gordon in the NYT Magazine: “With replay cameras watching every call, it has become an increasingly stressful job — and baseball’s new rules will just make it harder.”

“Where the Children Are Buried,” by Annie Hylton in The Walrus: “Thousands of Indigenous children died at residential schools across Canada. This is the story of one community’s search for unmarked graves.”

“Horse Nations,” by Andrew Curry for Science: “After the Spanish conquest, horses transformed Native American tribes much earlier than historians thought.”

Dan Kildee has been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma and will be out for a while for treatment, though it was caught early and his prognosis is good.

Jevin Hodge won’t run for office again next year.

Kamala Harris held a news conference that Newt Gingrich would love.

Sophia Negroponte was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

IN MEMORIAM — “Peterson Zah, 85, Navajo Nation’s First President, Dies,” by NYT’s Neil Genzlinger: He “led the Navajo Nation, the largest tribal reservation in the United States, for four years in the 1980s and then for another four in the ’90s, and … is widely credited with calming internal turmoil and advancing the economic and environmental interests of his tribe.”

OUT AND ABOUT — The National Women’s History Museum hosted a gala last night at the Hamilton Hotel, in celebration of the museum launching its first in-person exhibit at the MLK Library. SPOTTED: Uma Thurman, Sharon Stone, Ashley Graham, Laura Bell Bundy, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Vaughan Bagley, Adriane Brown, Bonnie Lautenberg, Susan Blumenthal, Megan Beyer, Kathleen Matthews, Kara Carscaden, Tiffany Shlain, Nancy O’Reilly, Zarna Garg, Donna Karan, Swiss Ambassador Jacques Pitteloud and Angelique Pitteloud, Sharon Bush, Karen Horne, Melanne Verveer, Luisana Pérez Fernández, Lori Montenegro, Dalila Wilson-Scott and Cheri Kaufman.

TRANSITIONS — Michael Lowry is now chief of staff for Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.). He previously was chief of staff for Rep. Neal Dunn (R-Fla.). … Lauren Ziegler is joining NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as legislative affairs specialist. She previously was a deputy chief of staff for Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas). … Emily Martin is now a policy director at the Asian American Hotel Owners Association. She previously was a coordinator at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — John Legittino, co-founder of Advoc8, and Lauren Pratapas, a CNN alum, welcomed Jude Elliott Legittino on March 23. He came in at 7 Ibs, 5 oz. Pic

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Justice Samuel Alito … Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) … Rachel Maddow (5-0) … NYT’s Michael Crowley … NewsNation’s Allison Harris … HHS’ Jess SmithAntonio WhiteJulia Hahn of Sen. Bill Hagerty’s (R-Tenn.) office … Wess MitchellErin Butler of the House Financial Services Dems … John Palatiello of Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies … Ali BrelandRodrigo Heng-Lehtinen of the National Center for Transgender Equality … Mary Popadiuk … Bully Pulpit Interactive’s Nicholas Rozzo Campbell O’Connor Matt Haller of the International Franchise Association … Frances Patano … POLITICO’s Nancy Vu and Zi-Ann Lum Nancy Lee … The Spectator’s Matt Purple Cameron Savage of Limestone Strategies … Elizabeth Villarreal … former Rep. Peter Deutsch (D-Fla.)

THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):

CNN “State of the Union”: Joe Tacopina … Lanny Davis … Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) … Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) … Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas).

Fox News “Sunday Morning Futures”: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) … Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.) … John Ratcliffe … Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick … Alina Habba. Panel: Miranda Devine and Peter Schweizer.

FOX “Fox News Sunday”: Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) … Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) … Bill Barr … Jim Trust. Panel: Marc Short, Richard Fowler, Roger Zakheim and Susan Page.

MSNBC “Inside with Jen Psaki”: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) … Michael Cohen … Cyrus Vance Jr. … Andrew Weissmann.

NBC “Meet the Press”: Cyrus Vance Jr. … Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) … Charlie Baker. Panel: Stephanie Cutter, Pat McCrory, Ashley Parker and Kristen Welker.

CBS “Face the Nation”: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) … John Bolton … Preet Bharara … Rikki Klieman.

ABC “This Week”: Joe Tacopina … Asa Hutchinson … Eric Schmidt. Panel: Jonathan Karl, Chris Christie, Donna Brazile and Julie Pace.

Send Playbookers tips to [email protected] or text us at 202-556-3307. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike DeBonis, deputy editor Zack Stanton and producers Setota Hailemariam and Bethany Irvine.

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