Two top lawyers defending Donald Trump against allegations that he mishandled classified government documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate abruptly dropped the case a day after being notified of pending charges against their client.
The departures of Jim Trusty and John Rowley come just days before the former president is set to face criminal charges in a Miami federal court, leaving his defense in limbo just as several new rivals challenge him for the Republican presidential nomination.
Trump is expected to appear in court on Tuesday after revealing that U.S. Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith charged him in a case over his handling of classified documents obtained by federal agents at Florida’s Mar-a-Lago last year. had seized.
While Trump remains the frontrunner for his party’s 2024 victory, the new charges will be his second criminal indictment in as many months, with a third expected this summer from local Georgia prosecutors. A growing number of Republicans believe the weight of legal challenges could leave Trump vulnerable to the growing field of presidential challengers.
Republicans on Capitol Hill have defended him, however, and Trump is counting on primary voters denying the charges as evidence of a politically motivated prosecution being promoted by the Democrats and the Biden administration. Senior Republicans, including Kevin McCarthy, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, and Ron DeSantis, Florida Governor and Trump’s main rival in 2024, have already attacked the Justice Department for the indictment.
But the weight of the charges and a potential trial could still jeopardize support for him among both Republicans and voters in any general election.
The turmoil in Trump’s legal team points to a rocky path for the former president as he attempts to fight the charges. Explaining their departure, Trump said Trusty and Rowley are “up against a very dishonest, corrupt, evil and ‘sick’ group of people, the likes of which has never been seen before”. He added that they would be replaced by Todd Blanche, who is already part of his legal team, and a “firm to be named later”.
In a statement released Friday, Trusty and Rowley said they had submitted their resignations to Trump. “It has been an honor to have defended him this past year, and we know he will be vindicated,” they said.
Trusty told CNN Thursday night a legal subpoena asking him to appear in a federal court in Miami, Florida, Tuesday and suggested there were about seven specific charges against the former president. These include obstruction of justice, making a false statement and violations of the Espionage Act, all of which are serious federal crimes. Trusty called the allegations “ridiculous”.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
A former US president has never before been prosecuted. It comes after federal agents searched Mar-a-Lago in August, for which, after months of negotiations, Trump had already turned over more than 15 boxes of classified documents to the administration, including some marked “top secret.”
The ex-president told CNN in May that he “brought the documents” because he “allowed it” under the Presidential Records Act. But by law, official presidential documents belong to the US, not the president, and must be kept in a federal depository.
The documents case is led by Smith, who was appointed in November by US Attorney General Merrick Garland to oversee investigations involving Trump.
Smith is also leading an investigation into Trump’s alleged interference in the transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.
Fani Willis, the District Attorney for Fulton County, Georgia, is also leading an investigation into the 2020 polls. Combined with Smith’s research on the matter, these are the biggest legal threats facing Trump, according to legal experts.
The indictment in the documents case comes after Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records earlier this year in a case brought by the Manhattan district attorney, the first time a current or former U.S. president has been criminally charged .