If President Donald Trump is hoping for a new, more aggressive legal strategy with a distinctly Trumpian flavor, he chose the right man for the job.
On Monday, Trump selected a new lawyer for his outside legal team handling the Russia investigations, The New York Times reported: longtime D.C. lawyer and former U.S. attorney Joe diGenova. DiGenova, according to the report, is a big believer in the FBI-is-plotting-to-frame-Trump conspiracy theory, and has gone on Fox News to tout it. That, perhaps, is how he got the President’s attention. (The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake has a good roundup of diGenova’s views on Trump-Russia.)
The New York Times reports that diGenova “is not expected to take a lead role but will instead serve as a more aggressive player on the President’s legal team.” And when it comes to playing a role in D.C. investigations and media frenzies, this won’t be his first rodeo. Far from it.
DiGenova and his wife and law partner, Victoria Toensing, were perhaps best known as frequent commentators during final year of Bill Clinton’s presidency, when the GOP was clamoring to begin impeachment proceedings. A Howard Kurtz column from February 1998 billed diGenova and Toensing as “the power couple at scandal’s vortex” and noted that “they’ve been quoted or on the tube more than 300 times in the month since the story broke.” That year, they were nearly omnipresent on cable news.
But diGenova had been a D.C. operator for more than a decade already. In his role as a U.S. attorney, diGenova in 1984 put D.C. Mayor Marion Barry before a federal grand jury as part of a probe into allegations that Barry and other high-ranking city officials had bought cocaine. In 1987, diGenova led the prosecution against Jonathan Pollard, who pleaded guilty of spying for Israel and was released in 2015.
In the 1990s, he was the independent counsel at the center of the Bill Clinton passport investigation, a criminal inquiry into whether officials in George H.W. Bush’s administration broke the law when they sought to dig up damaging information on Clinton through the State Department. DiGenova concluded that no one in the Bush administration acted illegally — though, he said, they had acted in a way that was “stupid, dumb and partisan.” In closing the investigation, he said that he was bringing “a Kafkaesque journey” to an end.
DiGenova and Toensing have spent less time in the public eye since Clinton left office. In 2007, diGenova surfaced as the New York State Senate’s special counsel for its investigation into New York Governor Eliot Spitzer (D), who had ordered police to monitor the State Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno (R).
Toensing is now representing a number of the supporting players in the Trump-Russia investigation, including Blackwater founder Erik Prince and former campaign policy adviser Sam Clovis, according to the New York Times. She also represents a key witness in the Senate’s investigation of the Obama administration’s sale of Uranium One to a Russian company, a story some Republicans seized on last fall and that Trump described as “the biggest story that Fake Media doesn’t want to follow!”
But to those political observers who were tuned to cable news during the later Clinton years, the power couple remains most remembered for their commentary during the Lewinsky scandal.
In fact, a year earlier, before the Lewinsky scandal even got going, diGenova had an eye toward impeachment and argued against presidential immunity. In March 1997, he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that each day brough “fresh revelations of potentially criminal conduct by Bill Clinton, Al Gore and their aides, in matters ranging from Whitewater to Filegate.” A special counsel, he said, could offer the solution. “Independent counsels are not appointed by the White House, so presumably they should be free to pursue criminal charges against the president if his actions warrant it,” he wrote.
It’s an opinion he might want to revisit in his work for Trump.