Federalist Society Lawyers are “Squishes” Too Committed to the Rule of Law for a Second Trump Term

From a must-read NYT report:

In many ways, the Federalist Society has become synonymous with the Republican establishment, and its members’ most common interests — including pushing an originalist interpretation of the Constitution and federal statutes — can be distinct from the whims and grievances of Mr. Trump himself. Its membership dues are low, and politically ambitious Republican lawyers of various stripes routinely join it or attend its events. Many of the more aggressive lawyers the Trump allies are eyeing have their own links to it.

But after both the legal policy fights inside the Trump administration and the refusal by the group’s most respected luminaries to join Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, the phrase “Federalist Society” became a slur for some on the Trump-aligned right, a shorthand for a kind of lawyerly weakness.

Hard-right allies of Mr. Trump increasingly speak of typical Federalist Society members as “squishes” too worried about maintaining their standing in polite society and their employment prospects at big law firms to advance their movement’s most contentious tactics and goals….

But the union between Mr. Trump and the conservative legal establishment could be more fraught than it sometimes appeared. As his presidency wore on, Mr. Trump attacked and sidelined many of the lawyers around him. That included Mr. Leo.

One episode, described by a person familiar with the incident, illustrates the larger chill.

In January 2020, Mr. Leo was having dinner at Mar-a-Lago when Mr. Trump strode up to his table. The president stunned Mr. Leo, publicly berating him and accusing him of recommending the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, who appointed a special counsel to investigate ties between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

Taken aback, Mr. Leo protested that he had actually suggested someone else for the position — Mr. Cipollone. Mr. Trump walked away without apologizing.

Nearly a year later, when Mr. Trump was trying to enlist legal assistance for his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss, he reached out three times to Mr. Leo. But Mr. Leo declined to take or return Mr. Trump’s calls, and has since only dealt with him through others.

A spokesman for Mr. Trump did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In a statement, Mr. Leo said, “I have nothing to say regarding his current efforts, but I’m just grateful that President Trump transformed the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary in his first term.”…

When he sought to overturn the 2020 election, Mr. Trump was unsatisfied with his government lawyers, including his second White House counsel, Mr. Cipollone, who largely rejected his efforts to subvert the results. Mr. Trump turned to a different set of outside lawyers.

Those lawyers included Rudolph W. Giuliani, John C. Eastman, Kenneth Chesebro, Jenna Ellis and Sidney K. Powell, all of whom have since been indicted in Georgia in a racketeering case that charged the former president and 18 of his allies with conspiring to overturn his election loss there in 2020. Ms. Powell, Mr. Chesebro and Ms. Ellis have pleaded guilty.

Mr. Trump was also infuriated that the justices he had put on the Supreme Court declined to repay his patronage by intervening in the 2020 election. As Mr. Trump criticized the court, Mr. Leo with the Federalist Society is said to have told associates he was disappointed that the former president’s rhetoric made his judicial appointment record look “transactional,” aimed at advancing Mr. Trump’s personal interests rather than a broader philosophical mission.

In the same way, Mr. Trump had a falling-out with his attorney general, William P. Barr, who refused to falsely say that the Justice Department had evidence of widespread voter fraud. After Mr. Barr resigned, his deputy and successor, Jeffrey A. Rosen, also refused to throw the department’s weight behind Mr. Trump’s claims. Mr. Trump then explored the idea of installing Jeffrey Clark — an official who was willing to raise concerns about purported election fraud — as acting attorney general.

Mr. Clark has also been indicted in the Georgia case, but remains in favor with Mr. Trump and has met with the former president at his private clubs. Over the summer, at Mr. Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J., Mr. Clark attended a fund-raiser for the people who have been imprisoned for rioting at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Mr. Clark will most likely be in contention for a senior Justice Department position in any second Trump administration, depending on the outcome of his legal travails. He has written a constitutional analysis, titled “The U.S. Justice Department Is Not Independent,” that amounts to an intellectual blueprint for direct presidential control of federal law enforcement….

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