“Trump’s lawyer got creamed": Experts say flailing Todd Blanche "blew it" at gag order hearing

"Trump is hurting himself by insisting that his attorneys stand by falsehoods and take weak legal positions"

By Charles R. Davis

Deputy News Editor

Published April 24, 2024 10:40AM (EDT)

Trump attorney Todd Blanche looks on as former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 19, 2024 in New York City.  (Mark Peterson - Pool/Getty Images)
Trump attorney Todd Blanche looks on as former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 19, 2024 in New York City. (Mark Peterson - Pool/Getty Images)

Todd Blanche was a partner at a prestigious law firm when he quit and took on Donald Trump as a client. He chose this life, in other words, deciding to chase fame at the cost of trying to represent an impossible client. And while we are still weeks away from a verdict – and being able to conclusively judge the direction of his career – Blanche’s performance on Tuesday has others questioning whether he can come out of this without long-term embarrassment.

“The real challenge for him is how to do this without losing his dignity and reputation,” criminal defense attorney Ty Cobb told Reuters. The risk, he said, is that Blanche, in defending a man accused of falsifying business records to cover up a sex scandal ahead of the 2016 election, feels tempted to cross ethical boundaries, unable to avoid “falling prey to the base desires of your own client.”

Cobb worked as White House counsel under Trump and has since likened the former president to a “mob boss.” He knows.

So far, at least, Blanche appears to be doing the job that his client wants. There’s no evidence that work has been unethical, per se – though Blanche could face sanctions for his client’s willful violations of any court order, experts say – but following Tuesday’s contempt hearing, at which Judge Juan Merchan told Blanche that he was “losing all credibility,” other lawyers are saying it’s been painful to watch.

“Trump’s lawyer got creamed on the gag order,” conservative attorney George Conway put it on MSNBC. It wasn’t really his fault, Conway continued, because the client – Trump – posted items on Truth Social that plainly attacked witnesses against him, violating the rules imposed by Merchan. “They had nothing substantive to say in Trump’s defense.”

Charles Coleman, a former New York prosecutor, said that, normally, an attorney would have a proposal to present a judge that, in the face of a clear violation of a court order, could serve both sides as something of a face-saving compromise. Merchan appears prepared to hold Trump in contempt but neither he nor prosecutors are seeking any time in jail, for now – something that a defense lawyer could try to work with.

Instead, Coleman said on MSNBC, “They blew it, in grand fashion.”

We need your help to stay independent

“At a minimum,” Coleman said, “I would have expected them to walk into court and at least have some sort of plan or guideline to present to Judge Merchan, to say, look, this is how we should go about evaluating these things to try and give his client some wiggle room. You know Donald Trump is not going to change. You know he’s going to continue to violate it. So you at least have to try and give Judge Merchan something he can work with in an opinion, in an order, that Donald Trump might be able to follow.”

That didn’t happen. Instead, Blanche was left flailing, forced to argue that attacks on witnesses like Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen constituted “political” speech and that quoting others’ attacks did not constitute Trump himself making those attacks, even when he in fact added his own words to them.

That Blanche stuck with an implausible, indeed Trumpian line on the gag order was “a shocker,” Coleman said, one that “reeks of a client that cannot be controlled.”

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti also thinks Trump is to blame for harming his own defense. "When the judge tells your attorney that he has 'lost all credibility in this courtroom,' that’s really bad news for you," he posted on X. "Trump is hurting himself by insisting that his attorneys stand by falsehoods and take weak legal positions."

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Trump did not seem to appreciate his lawyer’s work, either, even if Blanche is likely doing exactly what’s been asked of him. Joy Reid, an MSNBC anchor who attended Tuesday’s court session, said she sensed some attorney-client tension. “The energy between him and his main lawyer, Todd Blanche, was very kind of frenetic,” Reid said. “He didn’t seem all that pleased with Blanche’s performance, nor did the judge, I will add.”

Damned if you do what the client wants, damned if you don’t. Tim Parlatore, another attorney who previously represented Trump, thinks that what the former president actually desires is to represent himself.

"He's a guy used to being the one standing up and making the speeches himself,” Parlatore told CNN, and now “he has to sit there all day, every day… and instead of being allowed to say anything, he has to have somebody like Todd Blanche do all the speaking for him.”

One can only speculate how this works out for Blanche. But, Parlatore said, for Trump the consequences are already visible, clearly demonstrating that he is not a man who enjoys his days in court. “This is, I think, mentally torturing him, that he has to sit there and go through this.”

By Charles R. Davis

Charles R. Davis is Salon's deputy news editor. His work has aired on public radio and been published by outlets such as The Guardian, The Daily Beast, The New Republic and Columbia Journalism Review.

MORE FROM Charles R. Davis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Donald Trump Juan Merchan Todd Blanche Ty Cobb