Meet the lawyer at the center of the Trump universe

Meet the lawyer at the center of the Trump universe

WASHINGTON — When President Trump last month issued his latest intervention by tweet in a war crimes case involving a Navy SEAL, it capped what had already been an extraordinary exercise of executive powers in military justice. 

“The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!” Trump wrote on Nov. 21.

This wasn’t the first time Trump moved to protect Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who was accused of murdering an Iraqi teenager allegedly affiliated with ISIS, and ultimately found guilty of a lesser charge that involved posing with the boy’s corpse. Trump previously required the military to move Gallagher to less restrictive confinement, rescinded awards given to the prosecutors for their work on the case, and restored Gallagher’s rank after the military court reduced it.

Trump’s tweet late last month was just one in a series of presidential interventions in Gallagher’s case that culminated with the president formally overriding efforts by senior Navy officers to strip Gallagher of his SEAL status. Trump’s move to ensure Gallagher could retire as a SEAL was “virtually unprecedented,” said legal expert Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School.

Defense attorney Marc Mukasey reacts outside military court after Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher was acquitted of premeditated murder. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

But there’s another aspect of the president’s involvement in the Gallagher case that is highly unusual: Both the convicted Navy SEAL and Trump have used the services of the same lawyer, Marc Mukasey.

Mukasey, who earlier this year opened a boutique law firm, Mukasey Frenchman & Sklaroff, took on a leading role in the defense at Gallagher’s trial. He also represented the president’s private business and charity this year.

Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, left, and his wife, Andrea Gallagher. (Photo: Julie Watson/AP)
Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, left, and his wife, Andrea Gallagher. (Photo: Julie Watson/AP)

Mukasey’s rise to prominence has been helped by the flood of legal drama surrounding President Trump. It also likely helps that Mukasey has long-standing professional and personal ties to Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

But unlike Giuliani, who appears frequently on TV, and Jay Sekulow, another Trump lawyer who has his own talk show, Mukasey has remained relatively under the radar, keeping his penchant for legal showmanship inside the courtroom.  And despite his connections to the Trump world, he has kept his practice outside of the partisan fray.

Along with Trump’s real estate company and Gallagher, the embattled Navy SEAL, Mukasey’s current clients include a witness in a biotech insider trading case and an ophthalmologist embroiled in a multimillion dollar fraud case, among many others. Mukasey told Yahoo News he sees himself as an “emergency room doctor” for clients who find themselves on trial.

“When someone comes to me with a problem, I don’t ask them are you a Republican or Democrat, are you a Yankee fan or a Met fan? I just attend to their issue,” Mukasey said in an interview with Yahoo News.

Yet Mukasey has deep, personal connections to Washington and within Trump’s orbit. Michael Mukasey, Marc Mukasey’s father, met Giuliani when they both worked together as federal prosecutors and became close friends. Marc Mukasey grew up spending holidays with Giuliani and was something of an extended family member to the former New York mayor, who is also one of the president’s closest confidants.

The elder Mukasey built his career in the southern district of New York, where he and Giuliani both worked as prosecutors. Michael Mukasey became the chief federal judge in the district and, in late 2006, he was nominated to be attorney general by President George W. Bush, and held the position for nearly two years, until the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Marc Mukasey followed his father into the legal profession, graduating from Dartmouth in 1989 and Cardozo School of Law in 1993. “Since the day I walked out of law school all that has concerned me besides doing a great job for my client is maintaining my integrity and my respect for the process,” Marc Mukasey said. “That’s largely because my father is probably among the most respected lawyers in the country, so I don’t make a move in a courtroom without asking what would my dad say about this.”

Michael B. Mukasey, left, and President George W. Bush in 2007. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Michael B. Mukasey, left, and President George W. Bush in 2007. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Marc Mukasey’s professional path has long been intertwined with that of his father — and Giuliani. From 1997 to 2005, he was a well-regarded prosecutor working for the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, the same office where his father met Giuliani.

Former colleagues there described the younger Mukasey as a hard-working and almost ubiquitous presence.  “Marc was in virtually every unit in the office,” said Harry Sandick, who served alongside Mukasey for several years. “He would go from a securities fraud trial … to a murder trial, to an international drug smuggling trial. Very, very impressive guy.”

Mukasey parlayed that experience — and his connections — into a lucrative private practice. 

In 2005, Giuliani became a partner at a Texas law firm, which became known as Bracewell & Giuliani, and Marc Mukasey followed him there. He eventually became head of the firm’s white collar practice, representing a rogues’ gallery of clients linked to infamous scandals, and racking up a series of legal victories. 

Marc Mukasey represented a top aide to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie during the “Bridgegate” scandal. Mukasey also secured a non-prosecution agreement for a doctor who leaked confidential information to a hedge fund as as part of what the New York Times called “the largest insider trading scheme on record,” and he represented Halliburton, which was contracted by BP, to work on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig prior to the disastrous oil spill disaster there. Halliburton ultimately ended up pleading to a misdemeanor related to destroying evidence and paying a $250,000 fine, which Mukasey called a “big victory” since the company avoided more serious charges and paid far less than the $4.5 billion paid by BP. 

In early 2016, Giuliani left Bracewell and went to another firm, Greenberg Traurig, and Marc Mukasey went with him. 

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. (Photo: Erik Perel/AP)
Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. (Photo: Erik Perel/AP)

At Greenberg, Mukasey continued representing clients involved in high-profile scandals. He worked for Hall of Fame basketball coach Rick Pitino amid the federal investigation into college basketball bribery. That case ended last year with no charges for the coach and Mukasey boasting that the verdict vindicated his client. Last April, Mukasey represented a former trader who was accused of market manipulation. Mukasey won an acquittal against federal prosecutors in that trial, which he summed up with a bit of bombast.

“We basically smacked them in the face,” Mukasey said of the prosecutors, according to the Times. 

About two years after joining Greenberg Traurig, Giuliani became Trump’s personal lawyer to defend the president in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election. Mukasey also became involved in the Russia probe, representing Joel Zamel, an Australian-Israeli businessman who participated in a controversial meeting at Trump Tower with the president’s son.

Giuliani eventually departed Greenberg Traurig in May 2018 as the firm bristled at his efforts to defend Trump from questions surrounding payments the president’s former lawyer Michael Cohen made to adult film star Stormy Daniels. A statement from Greenberg Traurig suggested Giuliani’s exit was motivated by his desire to focus on representing Trump. 

In late January of this year, Marc Mukasey also departed Greenberg Traurig, shortly after the firm boasted that he was leading its team that was representing clients in the Russia probe. Marc Mukasey told Yahoo News he left Greenberg Traurig “to pursue my dream of starting a trial boutique” law firm.  His firm bills itself as being “built specifically for the courtroom.”

However, even as Marc Mukasey struck out on his own, his ties to Giuliani remained strong both professionally and personally. In July of this year, as Giuliani faced a contentious divorce case, the former mayor told reporters that he had to borrow $100,000 from Mukasey to “pay taxes” after his future ex-wife blocked his access to a joint account. Giuliani said he would pay the money back to Mukasey once the matter was decided. Mukasey declined to comment on the loan, other than to call it a “private matter.”

In the meantime, Marc Mukasey’s father continued to work with Giuliani in 2017 as the pair represented an Iranian-Turkish gold trader named Reza Zarrab who had been accused by federal prosecutors of operating a complicated scheme to evade U.S. economic sanctions on Iran. Giuliani and the elder Mukasey came in for withering scorn from the federal judge overseeing Zarrab’s case, Richard Berman, who argued their work effectively benefited the Iranian regime. Zarrab, who agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in ongoing investigations, ultimately pleaded guilty to multiple counts of fraud, money  laundering, and sanctions violations, Giuliani and Michael Mukasey didn’t respond to requests for comment on this story.

Businessman Reza Zarrab being taken to Istanbul police headquarters in 2013. (Photo: Sebnem Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Businessman Reza Zarrab being taken to Istanbul police headquarters in 2013. (Photo: Sebnem Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Marc Mukasey, who wasn’t involved in the Zarrab case, has worked on a number of high-profile cases involving the president, though his role has been different from that of Giuliani. Though Mukasey has not represented Trump personally, he appeared in court this year as an attorney for the president’s now-defunct charity, the Trump Foundation and the president’s real estate business, the Trump Organization.

Mukasey’s work for the Trump Organization involved a dispute over who should pay for legal fees the president’s now-imprisoned former personal attorney, Cohen, claimed were incurred as a result of his work for Trump. He has also represented Trump’s company as it faces an ongoing investigation from the Manhattan District Attorney over a subpoena for financial records, including the president’s personal and business tax returns. 

One case that didn’t go Mukasey’s way was New York Attorney General Letitia James’s civil suit against the Trump Foundation. The president was recently ordered to pay $2 million out of his own pocket as a result of the charity foundation’s misuse of funds. 

Mukasey’s colleagues describe him as a master of making his case in front of a jury, and multiple lawyers who worked with him said this effectiveness in oral arguments stems from an ability to strike many notes in performances that can be indignant, aggressive or emotional. 

Bob Frenchman, Mukasey’s law partner who has spent over a decade working with him at various firms, says part of his skill is an instinct for when to turn on the fireworks.

“He’s very calculating and he does have a flair for the dramatic, but it’s only when the stars line up, so the effect of that is it’s all the more potent,” he said. “When those dramatic moments arise the jurors pay attention.” 

Nate Muyskens, who worked with Mukasey for over three years at the firm Greenberg Traurig, said Mukasey takes detailed trial preparation to an “extreme level,” which is what makes his courtroom performances so successful.

“Marc’s a little dude but he hits it out of the park every time,” Muyskens said of Mukasey. 

Marc Mukasey exits the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in May. (Photo: Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
Marc Mukasey exits the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in May. (Photo: Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Yet Marc Mukasey’s involvement in the case of Gallagher, the Navy SEAL accused of war crimes, raised some eyebrows since Trump inserted himself in the case. Ben Gershman, a former prosecutor with the Manhattan district attorney’s office and law professor at Pace University who specializes in judicial and prosecutorial ethics, described the situation as “very complicated” and “unique.” 

He also said it could pose an unusual sort of conflict of interest — one that favors the defendant at the expense of the prosecution and could even “undermine the legitimacy” of the proceeding.

“It’s just something that seems unprecedented. … It seems like it’s an unworkable, unmanageable conflict,” Gershman said, adding, “You’re in a position where [someone might ask], ‘Where is your allegiance?’”

Rachel VanLandingham, a law professor at Southwestern University Law School and former judge advocate in the U.S. Air Force, said there was not a conflict of interest for Mukasey even as she described the president’s interference in the case as “highly unusual.” 

“There’s no clear cut rule against this attorney having different clients,” VanLandingham said, adding, “There’s no rule that says a lawyer that the president has on one of his many issues cannot represent a defendant in a court martial or in a federal trial.”

There may be no rule, but a lawyer representing a client who has the power — and uses it — to commute the sentence of another client, is, if nothing else, incredibly rare. But Mukasey insisted to Yahoo News that he took care to draw a distinction between his work for Gallagher and the president. 

“I kept my work for Eddie Gallagher completely separate and apart from my work for the Trump Organization,”  said Mukasey, adding, “I had no contact with the president or anybody in the administration from the moment I joined Eddie’s trial team all the way through the verdict. To this day, I have never asked the president to take any action in the Gallagher case.”

President Trump. (Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP)
President Trump. (Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP)

One thing is clear — Mukasey’s courtroom dramatics came into play during the Gallagher case when he concluded with an emotional statement. It was a strategy that appeared to pay off: The jury cleared Gallagher of murder and convicted him of a lesser crime of posing with a corpse. 

“It was an incredible honor to be on the Gallagher trial team, and I got choked up during my closing argument discussing Eddie’s service,” Mukasey said. 

Mukasey is eager to emphasize the importance of the Gallagher case not for its connections to the Trump world, but as a showcase for his courtroom talent. “My highest and best use is standing in front of a jury and lighting them up for my client,” Mukasey said.

That is also, he argues, what differentiates him from his father.  “Look, my dad and I have different styles,” Marc Mukasey said of his father. “He’s an opera singer and I’m a punk rocker. There’s no question about that.”

In general, while he acknowledges drawing inspiration from his father, Marc Mukasey said he has tried to develop a legal career separate from his family — and their connections. “I wanted to build a reputation as a defense lawyer, not as Michael Mukasey’s son or Rudy Giuliani’s partner,” Mukasey said. “And I think that worked really well.”

Additional reporting contributed by Sean Naylor.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Michael and Marc Mukasey worked at Bracewell & Giuliani. Michael Mukasey did not work with the firm.

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