Ben Ginsberg’s office at the international law firm Jones Day was like a shrine to the old Republican Party.
Its walls and shelves were crowded with campaign artifacts that he had collected over the years, including on the trail with George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, whose presidential campaigns Ginsberg had helped run. In the summer of 2020, with Jones Day’s neoclassical building on Capitol Hill largely deserted because of Covid, Ginsberg started boxing the stuff up.
Week by week, Ginsberg had been feeling worse about his and his law firm’s work on Donald Trump’s campaign. Jones Day had begun representing Trump back in 2015, only months after Ginsberg and Don McGahn had arrived to set up a political law practice devoted to helping elect Republicans.
Since then, the firm had helped Trump shore up his support among conservatives; worked to staff the upper echelons of his administration; and defended him against sundry investigations. Now it was working for his 2020 re-election bid.
The president was intensifying his message about the risk of a rigged election, and he and his Republican Party had essentially declared war on mail-in voting and other policies that might encourage democratic participation at a time when large areas of the country were operating under Covid restrictions.
At one point, Ginsberg flagged his discomfort to Jones Day’s leader, Steve Brogan, describing Trump’s language as “beyond the pale.” Brogan, a staunch conservative, nodded and said he agreed. But that didn’t mean Jones Day would drop the Trump campaign as a client.
Another time, Ginsberg complained to Michael Glassner, a senior Trump campaign aide. Not only did Ginsberg object to what Trump was saying, but it was just stupid politics, he noted. Why oppose mail-in voting in the middle of a pandemic? (Glassner dismissed Ginsberg as an elitist and a prima donna.)
Other Jones Day lawyers, too, were getting anxious that Trump was laying the groundwork to try to overturn the election results if they didn’t go his way — and that Jones Day would end up being sucked into the ensuing disaster.
What would happen if Trump or his allies asked the firm to take on a case to challenge the election results? To sow doubts about the integrity of those results or the vote-counting process? To defend Trump if he refused to leave the White House?
These were crucial questions for Jones Day, the culmination of five years of having stood by an increasingly radical leader. For how long would the firm invoke its obligation to remain loyal to even the most dangerous clients?