June 7, 2017 / 6:39 PM / 2 years ago

In defense of Trump’s DOJ lawyers: a guest post

June 7 - My post Tuesday on the potential ethical headaches for President Donald Trump’s Justice Department lawyers reported comments from former George W. Bush ethics counsel Richard Painter questioning the accuracy of the Justice Department’s filings at the U.S. Supreme Court. Those comments provoked the following response from Supreme Court litigator Andrew Pincus of Mayer Brown. Pincus, a Democrat, is a onetime Clinton administration lawyer who has represented amicus clients challenging both the first and second Trump travel bans. I thank Pincus for his comments. -AF

I was surprised and disappointed by Richard Painter’s entirely speculative assertions that “There´s significant evidence these lawyers were not honest” and “There´s a prima facie case that their briefing was factually inaccurate.” What is that significant evidence?

Mr. Painter provided none. These lawyers, who almost certainly had zero interaction with the president, had no reason to suspect, much less to know, any reason that the second order, signed by the president, should not be taken at face value.  Given the history of last five months, it seems highly likely that the president’s tweets came as a surprise to these lawyers, along with the rest of the country.  

I know five of the 10 lawyers who signed the government’s cert petition. Jeff Wall has been a friend and colleague in the Supreme Court bar for years. He’s a terrifically talented lawyer and a very honorable person.

Ed Kneedler, a Deputy Solicitor General, is a national treasure. He’s worked in the SG’s office for 38 years and argued more than 100 cases before the Supreme Court. He knows more about the law, and works harder to defend the interests of the United States, than anyone I know. There is no more respected lawyer in the Supreme Court bar or honorable public servant in Washington.

Then there are three the Civil Division career lawyers who signed the cert petition – Doug Letter, Tom Byron and Sharon Swingle. I worked with Doug when I was a summer intern in DOJ’s Civil Division/Appellate Section in 1980 and on many matters since then; he’s been handling the government’s toughest appellate cases for more than 35 years. Tom and Sharon were associates at my law firm before they went into the government. Again: honorable diligent lawyers and public servants.

Why would these fine lawyers do anything that might possibly mislead the Supreme Court, and risk their sterling reputations?

I’d put everything I own on these lawyers acting ethically and honorably rather than on Richard Painter’s raw speculation.

There are a lot of very troubling things happening in Washington today. But unless we want the country to collapse completely, we need honorable people willing to serve. And the price for service shouldn’t be unjustified attacks on good people’s reputations.

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