Todd Blanche: elite white-collar lawyer takes centre stage in Donald Trump drama

As Donald Trump’s motorcade sped away from the Manhattan courthouse at which he had been criminally charged on Tuesday afternoon, the assembled cameras turned to focus on a new character in the former president and television star’s perennial legal dramas.

Todd Blanche, hair neatly parted at a greying temple, had left elite Wall Street firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft just a day earlier to bolster the team that would defend Trump against 34 felony counts in New York.

Already, he seemed to grasp that his client cared about performances in front of the world’s media, not just before the judge.

“It’s not a good day,” Blanche said, echoing the Trump representatives who had been filling the airwaves on rightwing outlets. “You don’t expect this to happen to someone who was the president of the United States.”

Yet Blanche does not resemble the attorneys fighting Trump’s corner in civil litigation over the allegedly unlawful inflation of the value of his property portfolio and other assorted probes, some of whom have been sanctioned for wasting the court’s time or not responding to subpoenas.

“The Trump team is very lucky to get someone like Todd,” said Marcus Asner, a former prosecutor at the US attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York, at which Blanche first arrived in 1999 as a paralegal, soon after leaving college. “Highly ethical,” Blanche is a “very well respected member of the white-collar bar,” Asner, now a partner at Arnold & Porter, added.

Popular among the mostly Ivy League educated prosecutors whose cases he helped prepare for trial, Blanche — who had two young children at the time — was not content to remain on the lowest rung of the SDNY ladder, and enrolled in Brooklyn Law School, where he earned his degree by attending evening classes while continuing to work full-time.

After stints as a clerk for New York district judges, and in private practice, Blanche returned to the SDNY ranks. This time he was the equal of prosecutors for whom he had once done grunt work. He eventually became their supervisor, when he was elevated to co-head of the office’s violent crimes unit, working on murder and racketeering cases, among others.

At WilmerHale, and then at white-shoe Cadwalader, he switched sides to become a criminal defence lawyer. Blanche’s first foray into the Trump universe came when he represented former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, winning the dismissal of state fraud charges against his client in 2019 and again in front of an appeals court in 2020.

Blanche has since been hired by Rudy Giuliani’s former associate Igor Fruman, and longstanding Trump aide Boris Epshteyn, who has been drawn into the investigation into the attempts to overturn the 2020 election. It was Epshteyn who urged Trump to employ Blanche after the indictment was filed, according to a person directly familiar with the matter.

Even close colleagues were taken aback by Blanche’s resignation from Cadwalader on Monday, however, to place a bet on one historic case. “I was a little surprised,” one friend said, “just because when someone makes such a big career move . . . it’s always a risk because this country is so divided and because Donald Trump is such a polarising figure.”

While some acquaintances acknowledged that Blanche was not a natural member of the Trump camp, none was aware of any particular allegiances.

“I have no idea what his politics are,” said Joe Moreno, a former federal prosecutor who was with Blanche at Cadwalader. “I just know him as a very, very hard-working, tenacious attorney who represents his clients very well.”

Such skills will be in demand over the next few months. The battle between Trump and the Manhattan district attorney’s office will play out via voluminous and intricate legal filings, such as motions to dismiss, which will challenge the legal integrity of the indictment that even some of the former president’s most vocal detractors have declared weak.

Still, whether Blanche will be retained by Trump by the time of the next scheduled hearing in December remains an open question.

Chris Kise, a former Florida solicitor-general who left elite firm Foley & Lardner last year to represent Trump in matters including the probe into allegedly classified documents being kept at his Mar-a-Lago home, was reportedly sidelined soon after — although Kise denied this was the case.

Nick Gravante, another colleague of Blanche’s at Cadwalader, was last month dismissed as counsel to Allen Weisselberg, the convicted former Trump Organization chief financial officer, after the Trump team deemed his tactics to be too conciliatory, according to a person directly familiar.

Trump’s combative public persona is already threatening to complicate matters for his counsel. Hours after Blanche was told by the court to remind his client to refrain from making statements that were likely to “incite violence or civil unrest”, the defendant took to the stage and called Judge Juan Merchan, who is assigned to the case, “Trump-hating”.

People familiar with Blanche’s decision to take on Trump as a client said he hoped the quality of his work on the case would prevent him from suffering a similar fate to others in the rotating cast of attorneys assigned to cases involving the former president.

All agreed, however, that it would be Trump who would stand to lose most by severing ties with a lawyer of Blanche’s calibre.

“There’s plenty of people that will go on camera and shout about whether or not this case is fair or just or partisan or whatnot,” Moreno said. “But what Trump really needs is a grown-up.”

Additional reporting by Joshua Chaffin in New York

Source link

Leave a Comment