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Inside the Off-the-Record Calls Held by Anti-Trump Legal Pundits


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Politico

Some of the country’s most prominent legal commentators are holding off-the-record sessions to hash out the latest twists and turns in Donald Trump’s legal saga.

Ankush Khardori

04/23/2024

As the Jan. 6 committee was working on its bombshell investigation into the Capitol riot and President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the last election, committee staffers took some time out of their seemingly 24-hour jobs one day in 2022 to brief a group of lawyers and legal pundits on a Zoom call.

The people on the call weren’t affiliated with the investigation or the government. But they would have been familiar to anyone who watches cable news. They were some of the country’s most well-known legal and political commentators, and they were there to get insights into the committee’s work and learn about what to look for at the hearings.

The group’s gathering was not a one-time event, but in fact an installment in an exclusive weekly digital salon, whose existence has not been previously reported, for prominent legal analysts and progressive and conservative anti-Trump lawyers and pundits. Every Friday, they meet on Zoom to hash out the latest twists and turns in the Trump legal saga — and intellectually stress-test the arguments facing Trump on his journey through the American legal system.

The meetings are off the record — a chance for the group’s members, many of whom are formally or loosely affiliated with different media outlets, to grapple with a seemingly endless array of novel legal issues before they hit the airwaves or take to print or digital outlets to weigh in with their thoughts. About a dozen or more people join any given call, though no one takes attendance. Some group members wouldn’t describe themselves with any partisan or ideological lean, but most are united by their dislike of Trump.

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The regular attendees on Eisen’s call include Bill Kristol, the longtime conservative commentator, and Laurence Tribe, the famed liberal constitutional law professor. John Dean, who was White House counsel under Richard Nixon before pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in connection with Watergate, joins the calls, as does George Conway, a conservative lawyer and co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. Andrew Weissmann, a longtime federal prosecutor who served as one of the senior prosecutors on Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation and is now a legal analyst for MSNBC, is another regular on the calls. Jeffrey Toobin, a pioneer in the field of cable news legal analysis, is also a member of the crew. The rest of the group includes recognizable names from the worlds of politics, law and media.

 

Sometimes there is a special guest, like the Jan. 6 committee staffers (who recalled briefing the group). One Friday last May, after E. Jean Carroll defeated Trump in the first of her two defamation cases to go to trial, her lawyer Roberta Kaplan joined as a guest to talk for roughly half an hour about her strategy for beating Trump in court. Another time, J. Michael Luttig, a conservative legal scholar and former judge who helped lead the public campaign to disqualify Trump under the 14th Amendment, showed up to make his case.

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You probably know some of the other regular participants on the call, which draws in some of the most recognizable names in the Anti-Trump Cinematic Universe.

They currently include Obama-era U.S. Attorneys Harry Litman, Barbara McQuade and Joyce White Vance. Litman is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, a cable news regular and a podcast host. McQuade and Vance co-host a podcast and are under contract with MSNBC, as are two other regular attendees — Jennifer Rubin, an opinion writer for the Washington Post who often covers Trump’s legal affairs, and Mary McCord, a former federal prosecutor and high-ranking official in the Justice Department who co-hosts a podcast for MSNBC with Weissmann. Karen Agnifilo, a former senior prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and CNN commentator, is an occasional attendee, as is Elliot Williams, also a former federal prosecutor who provides commentary on CNN.

Other regulars include Ryan Goodman, an NYU law school professor who often collaborates with Weissmann; Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor and occasional contributor to POLITICO Magazine; Asha Rangappa, a former FBI Special Agent focused on counterintelligence investigations who currently serves as an ABC news contributor and also co-hosts a podcast with Mariotti; Shan Wu, another former federal prosecutor, a regular contributor to the Daily Beast and a veteran cable news talker; and Norman Ornstein, a long-time political observer affiliated with the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

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