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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Trump and Barr are better for the defense bar than you might guess

U.S. Attorney General William Barr at a news

U.S. Attorney General William Barr at a news conference Sept. 10 in Phoenix. Credit: AP/Bob Christie

With the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg refocusing attention on the courts, criminal defense attorneys might wish to take a moment to thank President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr — for helping to grow their business.

First, there was an accidental economic stimulus. Trump's 2016 campaign created a small market for lawyers representing big-name defendants. These included ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn and ex-consultant Roger Stone.

Further, the president rewarded lawyers' hard-fought appeals — by pardoning and commuting the sentences of numerous clients. Those so blessed included a corrupt ex-Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, and two Oregon cattle ranchers whose sentences for arson led armed militiamen to seize control of a wildlife refuge.

Other free-pass recipients were members of the white-collar crime community and an accused war criminal. In some cases these pardons may have ended the billable hours. But at least they made clients happy with the outcome.

Even Trump's impeachment ordeal helped the industry here and there. For example, prominent defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz drew a bright spotlight. He defended Trump in the Senate over a question about whether a "quid pro quo" deal with Ukraine's president mattered in considering the charges.

Dershowitz got a rare chance to showcase the inventive argument that motive was what mattered. If an act was in the public interest, it was not impeachable, he said. Public officials might reasonably equate what is in their own political interests with the public good, he argued.

Whatever all that meant, it put Dershowitz and the others on the winning side, if only because a Republican Senate was deciding charges against a Republican president.

In recent days, Barr has even lit into prosecutors with defense-bar vigor. Barr went so far as to say Justice Department attorneys too often engage in "headhunting" by pursuing high-profile targets.

Surely a lawyer with a prominent client soon can find a way to quote Barr's helpful analysis before a jury.

Trump has used the bully pulpit to let it be known he sympathizes with the defense in the case of a 17-year-old MAGA rallygoer charged with killing two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Perhaps the president's kind words and hearty support from gun-rights supporters could help Kyle Rittenhouse pay his defense attorneys.

But before you think the administration has turned itself in to the ACLU, remember that somber concern for the rights of the accused tends to be selective; those with the wrong political pedigree are viewed differently. Rally chants of "lock her up," directed at Hillary Clinton, tend to clash with libertarian pieties.

When the president made an unprecedented show of attacking a jury forewoman, it was in the cause of ally Roger Stone, who was found to have made false statements to Congress, obstructed its investigation and tampered with a witness.

Barr, meanwhile, has urged his attorneys to consider harsh sedition laws when charging violent crimes that occur during street protests. If Trump holds on to power next year, this could stimulate some specialized lawyering because sedition statutes are rarely used in America.

Also, when in his "crackown" pose, Trump tries to pressure cities to help in ICE roundups. He also prodded at least one foreign government to prosecute his domestic rivals. He also tried in court to stop or delay the publication of books critical of him.

Biden last week told supporters that, if elected, he'd ensure that "the Justice Department is no longer the private lousy law firm of the president ... He has them take care of his private business. It's outrageous."

But when it comes to private law firms, at least Biden didn't have to hire one to fend off the criminal charges Trump had hoped to import from Ukraine via lawyer Rudy Giuliani's skulduggery.

Had Trump's dirt dig worked, defense lawyers could have enjoyed another little public-works project. Members of the bar may still do well from that scandal, which produced a couple of indictments against onetime Trump loyalists. In prosecution, there is opportunity.

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