I want to draw your attention to the some specific language in the Politico story on Paul Manafort’s change of lawyers, quoting a Manafort spokesman (see especially my bold language):
A spokesman confirmed the change. “Mr. Manafort is in the process of retaining his former counsel, Miller & Chevalier, to represent him in the office of special counsel investigation. As of today, WilmerHale no longer represents Mr. Manafort,” Jason Maloni said in a statement.
Now I have absolutely no factual knowledge of the situation.
However, I can not help but notice this. Apparently, the process of moving back representation to prior counsel was not, at least at the time of the statement, complete. But, “as of today,” WilmerHale is out of the picture, and apparently it has become important that this is made clear immediately.
Now all the media coverage has focused on the possibility that this change reflects realization of the newly serious situation Manafort faces. But what strikes me is the apparent speed and finality of the change — so fast that the statement is issued before the retaining of new counsel is complete. This is in direct contrast to changes made in representation of others caught up in this scandal. Of course, in a fast moving case, in which the prosecutor has already shown a willinness to push hard, going even an hour without a lawyer can be very risky.
As a totally general matter, it is an open secret among lawyers that “getting off a case,” is often triggered by disagreement about testimony, or representations made by counsel to legal bodies. Sometimes this can be related to prior testimony or such representations. More specifically often the problem is the reluctance of counsel to become embroiled in knowing (emphasis added) that testimony is false. (One might speculate that in such situations, timing can be of the essence.)
Regardless of whether any of my speculation is accurate, you can be sure that Mueller’s staff are already going through everything they have to try to figure out where any problem might be, and to then adjust their strategy.
Not good news for any of those potentially implicated.
Note: This post appeared initially in my access to justice blog.