Like a boss
Hutchinson's decision to testify about Jan. 6 highlights Trump's 'mob boss' tactic of paying witness lawyers
For the first three of Cassidy Hutchinson's interviews with the House Jan. 6 committee, she was represented by Stephen Passantino, a longtime Trump White House lawyer recommended to Hutchinson by two of former President Donald Trump's former aides and paid for by Trump's political action committee, The New York Times reports. Hutchinson, a top Trump White House aide, "was not expected to pay for his services," The Washington Post adds.
"Hutchinson cut ties to Passantino after he suggested that she not testify publicly," the Post reports. After hiring a new lawyer, Jody Hunt, "Hutchinson sat for a fourth interview with the committee in which she divulged more revelations and agreed to come forward publicly to testify to them," leading to this week's explosive hearing, the Times adds. In all, more than a dozen Jan. 6 committee witnesses have had their legal fees paid by Trump's PAC or his allies.
"Trump World was assigning lawyers to a lot of these staffers," including Hutchinson, or at least "covering the costs of lawyers for people who don't have big legal defense funds," former White House communications director Alyssa Farah told CNN Thursday morning. "Cassidy said there's more I want to share with the committee a couple months ago, I put her in touch with Congresswoman [Liz] Cheney, she got a new lawyer, and that's how this testimony came about."
Elie Honig said paying for lawyers is a common mob tactic, and "the No. 1 flag for us as prosecutors this person may be ready to flip, they change out lawyers and go get a lawyer on their own."
"Donald Trump never changes his playbook," former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen tells the Post. "He behaves like a mob boss, and these messages are fashioned in that style."
Cohen himself had "refused for a time to stray from Trump's orbit in part because he thought his legal fees were being covered by the Trump Organization," the Post reports, citing the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Cohen pleaded guilty and started cooperating with Mueller after Trump stopped paying his legal bills in 2018, the Times adds.
"There is nothing illegal about a third party covering legal fees for a witness," the Times notes. But it becomes problematic if the person or entity paying the legal bills has a vested interest in the outcome of the testimony, said New York University law professor Stephen Gillers.
"The obvious example is organized crime, where the crime boss tells the lieutenant that, 'Joe, here, is going to be your lawyer,'" Gillers told the Times. "The lawyer's loyalty, of course, is to the boss, not the lieutenant."