Paul Callan: Trump's lawyers should be savvy enough to ignore online criticism
Even tough-guy lawyers aren't trained for the rough and tumble of free-for-all politics
Editor’s Note: Paul Callan is a CNN legal analyst, a former New York homicide prosecutor and currently is counsel at the New York law firm of Edelman & Edelman PC, focusing on wrongful conviction and civil rights cases. Follow him on Twitter @paulcallan. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
During their initial screening process, Navy SEALs recruits are traditionally tossed into a swimming pool with hands and feet securely tied. They are expected to deal with the stress and stay alive without panicking. If they can’t, they are dismissed; it is assumed they will be unable to cope with the even more difficult challenges in the weeks of training ahead.
Though they might be a little anxious about getting their pinstriped suits wet, President Trump’s personal lawyers, Mark Kasowitz and Ty Cobb, might benefit from such anti-panic training. Both recently exhibited embarrassing online temper tantrums. If they wish to competently represent the holder of the world’s most famous Twitter handle, Kasowitz and Cobb must learn to deal more effectively with the social media publicity-seekers and trolls who toss verbal hand grenades with abandon and glee.
Fortunately, the lesson is simple – they should ignore the social media flotsam rather than provide a platform for those who feast on the famous. Unfortunately, it seems like a lesson that none of Donald Trump’s crybaby lawyers – some of whom apparently thought Jared Kushner should have stepped aside amid the Russia investigation – seem willing to heed. My take (as a lawyer myself) is that lawyers, especially very successful ones, lack the thick skins required in the free-for-all atmosphere of politics.
The President’s personal commercial litigator, Mark Kasowitz, for instance, completely lost his cool in response to an email critic in July and unleashed a form of verbal napalm, stating:
“I’m on you now. You are f***g with me now Let’s see who you are Watch your back, bitch.”
Kasowitz also suggested: “Call me. Don’t be afraid, you piece of s***. Stand up. If you don’t call, you’re just afraid.”
Kasowitz, through a spokesman, subsequently issued a tepid promise to apologize, saying he “should not have responded in that inappropriate manner.” Kasowitz has since largely disappeared from public view.
Next to enter the arena of thin-skinned Trump presidential counselors was attorney Ty Cobb, a well-known and respected former federal prosecutor who was widely expected to provide sensible advice and a buffer between the President and special counsel Robert Mueller. Surprisingly, the thinness of Cobb’s skin has proven to be inversely proportional to his widely-reported reputation for aggressiveness.
Perhaps it’s a family trait – Cobb’s namesake and distant relative, baseball legend Ty Cobb, also had a temper problem and once attacked a handicapped fan who had repeatedly heckled him from the stands.
Sadly, for Trump and the nation, Ty Cobb, the modern-day lawyer, seems not to have learned either from Kasowitz’s fall from grace or his ancestor’s antics.
Cobb was recently suckered by Jeff Jetton, a restaurant owner and as Business Insider described him, an “unabashed troll,” into an inappropriate email exchange when Jetton accused him of being a “monster” and “that horrid clown from the Stephen King novel” for representing the President. Instead of ignoring the gratuitous insult as any sensible public figure would do, Cobb accused Jetton of being “deranged impotent and unimportant.” before bragging that he could “say assertively (that) more adults in the room will be better (for the Trump administration). Me and Kelly among others.”
He was presumably referring to the President’s chief of staff John Kelly. Later in the same week Cobb asked a reporter via email if she was “on drugs” after she asked him questions about the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.
Why don’t Kasowitz and Cobb know better? Their customary courtroom habitat, while seemingly rough and tumble, is actually a judicially protected environment where long-standing rules and traditions prohibit personal attacks on lawyers. Ironically, in court, brutal attacks on the other lawyer’s client are common and fair game. Top lawyers, however, rarely attack attorneys who oppose them in court – to do so is considered bad form and unprofessional. So it’s not that surprising that when attacked personally in the wild, unregulated world of social media, the same high-profile tough-guy (and girl) attorneys think they can talk or threaten social media lunatics into being fair to them.
Rather than sensibly ignoring the social media attack hounds and lacking a judge to provide cover and protection, the lawyers strike back by making full use of their finely-honed verbal and written attack skills – only to look like fools in the end. Both Cobb and Kasowitz have naively provided publicity for the social media vultures they tried to crush – to the detriment of their client, the President. Even though both lawyers have represented famous clients in the past, there is nothing even remotely comparable to representing the President of the United States and especially this one, who generates enormous coverage virtually every day.
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Kasowitz, Cobb or whoever might someday succeed them as personal counsel to the President should follow the example of the Navy SEALs. Don’t panic or get stressed when attacked. Ignore the social media pests and save your strength for your client’s real enemies and the battles ahead – which are likely to take place in a courtroom, rather than on a computer screen.