Trump and his 3,500 suits: Prosecutor and also author expose in interview his portrait of "Plaintiff in Chief"

By Robin Lindley

April 20, 2020, 8:49 to be CDT


President Donald Trump. Photograph from

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While Donald Trump had actually no endure in working in federal government or in public company when he ended up being president that the united States, he lugged an astounding background of authorized in hundreds of lawsuits to the nation’s highest possible office. Former federal prosecutor and author James D. Zirin illuminates more than 45 years of Trump’s legal disputes in his brand-new book, Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait that Donald trumped in 3,500 Lawsuits, published in September 2019.

As a commonwealth prosecutor, Zirin spent years handling complicated litigation. He’s additionally a self-described “middle-of-the-road Republican.” Plaintiff in Chief is no a partisan screed however a very closely documented legal study.

In his book, Zirin scrupulously details Trump’s life in courts of law. Based on an ext than 3 years of extensive research, the publication examines illustrative cases and how castle reflect on the character and also moral view of the current president. Zirin references page after web page of court records and other proof to illustrate Trump’s legit maneuvering.

As Zirin points out, trump learned exactly how to use the law from his mentor, notorious lawyer Roy Cohn. Trump took Cohn’s scorched-earth strategy come heart.

“Trump witnessed litigation as being only about winning,” Zirin writes. “He sued at the autumn of a hat. He sued for sport; he sued to accomplish control; and also he sue to do a point. He sue as a method of ruining or silencing those that crossed him. He came to be a plaintiff in chief.”

Zirin argues that trump card has shown a chronic scorn because that the law. “All this aberrant habits would be problem in a businessman,” the writes. “But the effects of together conduct in a guy who is the chairman of the United says are nothing less than terrifying.”

Zirin is an achieved litigator who has showed up in federal and also state courts around the nation. He to be an assistant U.S. Attorney for the southern District of new York under then-U.S. Lawyer Robert M. Morgenthau.

His other books include Supremely Partisan: how Raw national politics Tips the scales in the United claims Supreme Court and also The mommy Court: story of situations That Mattered in America’s greatest Trial Court. His posts have showed up in variety of publications.

Zirin recently answered part questions—from Robin Lindley, a Seattle-based writer and also lawyer—on his study of Trump, through telephone from his office in brand-new York.

Robin Lindley: In your book, friend chronicle Donald Trump’s life together a litigator for almost a half-century. How did you involved write Plaintiff in Chief ~ above Trump’s life through much more than 3,500 lawsuits?

James Zirin: about three years ago, a friend said that I create a biography of Roy Cohn. Ns knew Roy Cohn. He was an unscrupulous lawyer. He was disbarred 1986, about three years prior to he died. And he to be Trump’s lawyer and also confidant, and also their partnership was an extremely close, very intimate. He boasted come a reporter that he and Trump spoke about five or six times a day. This was prior to Trump had any type of notion of seeking political office.

Cohn yes, really taught Trump whatever he knows around waging what I call asymmetrical warfare, weaponizing the law and using litigation as a method to attain the various objectives that he had. Lock met in a bar in 1973 just after Trump had actually been called as a defendant together with his dad in a gyeongju discrimination in housing suit brought by the righteousness Department. Trump had actually a number of lawyers, and also normally a suit choose that ends easily with a consent decree v the defendant agreeing the he or she won’t discriminate no longer without accepting or admitting or denying the allegations in the complaint.

Cohn had actually a different recipe because that going forward. He liked to to win the system. He’d been indicted three times through the legend prosecutor Robert M. Morgenthau, and he’d to be acquitted three times. Cohn’s recipe was fight, and also he teach Trump the tools he used. No. 1 is if you’re charged with anything, counterattack. Rule No. 2 is if you’re charged with anything, try to weaken your adversary. Preeminence No. 3 is occupational the press. Dominance No. 4 is lie. The doesn’t matter exactly how tall a tale it is, but repeat it again and again. Dominance No. 5 is resolve the case, case victory and also go home. And also that’s exactly what happened in the gyeongju discrimination case.

So, anyway, I produced a book proposal, i m sorry I sent out to my agent and also my publisher, St. Martin’s Press. In its wisdom, the push said ns should shot to create a larger book around the affect of legal action on Donald Trump because that’s the way he had performed himself in the 40 years prior to he achieved office, and also I must use Cohn maybe as a springboard, yet the book should center on Trump and what suffer he had had in litigation. So ns did that, and also that’s just how I concerned create the book.


Robin Lindley: It’s a remarkable and also chilling account of Trump’s life with the prism the his legitimate affairs. You tension in the book that the two most an effective influences in his life were Roy Cohn and also his father, Fred Trump.

James Zirin: Yes. His father, the course, to be a defendant, as well, in the gyeongju discrimination cases. His father was additionally a actual estate operator, and he come up against the federal government in the arena that FHA loans. He was accused that profiteering. The testified before a Senate committee and also was interrogated by Sen. Lehman. The made a most money by mortgaging out with FHA loans in ways that they were never intended. Then as soon as he to be asked around the profits, he stated he had actually never withdrawn the money indigenous the bank, so as such there were no profits. The was ridiculous. But here is an example of speak something that’s completely ridiculous because that public consumption that somehow or other some civilization will believe. And that’s the strategy Trump has actually used professionally, and also that’s the technique he proceeds to use in office.

Robin Lindley: were you ever involved in litigation with Donald Trump?

James Zirin: No. I never ever was. I met him several times, and also I met him v Roy Cohn number of times. Once I an initial met Cohn, ns was one assistant U.S. Attorney and Cohn to be being investigated by a federal cool jury. I operated for Robert M. Morgenthau then, and that investigation resulted in indictments. Cohn was in the anteroom of the grand jury chamber and witnesses were wait to testify, and also he raised his open hand in what might be understood as a high five. Ns naively thought it was a high five to encourage the witnesses since they were dealing with the difficult experience that testifying prior to a cool jury. And it wasn’t the high 5 at all. He was informing them to take the fifth .

That’s how Cohn operated, and that’s the means Trump operates. It’s saying something that’s extremely incriminating and doing miscellaneous that’s very incriminating but doing the in a means so the you have full deniability if anyone calls you out for it.

Robin Lindley: What was your impression that Trump as soon as you met him years ago?

James Zirin: i really met him only to shiver hands. I never ever met him to talk through him, but I knew of his reputation. Ns knew the didn’t salary his bills. Ns knew the didn’t salary his lawyers. I knew he’d remained in bankruptcy 5 times, and I knew about his Atlantic City casinos. I knew he’d been sue a number of times. And also I knew the he had actually been a plaintiff one extraordinary number of times. He sued journalists. That sued little businesspeople for using the trump card name. He sue women that he was affiliated with. He sued his wives also after a divorce, both Ivana and Marla Maples. And also I knew the a lot of settlements the entered throughout litigation were preserved under seal in the documents of the court, so the public would never recognize the terms of the settlements.

In one significant litigation effort, you had actually the so-called polishing brigade case, which involved the construction of trumped Tower that opened in 1983. Trump had undocumented polish workers, and he walk not add to the union pension money as that was required to do. There was litigation, and also it to be eventually resolved for 100 cents on the disagreement after an extensive litigation, consisting of a attempt in which the trial judge stated Trump’s testimony was completely lacking in credibility. However the situation was settled. We never ever knew what the terms of negotiation were; except, about 20 years later, a referee unsealed the settlement papers, and also it turned the end that trump had settled for 100 cents on the dollar.

Robin Lindley: Readers may be surprised that you’re a Republican.

James Zirin: I’m actually a lifelong Republican, and I’m decidedly anti-Trump because I don’t think he represents the values of the country or the structure of America. Ns think he’s been a rogue president.

Robin Lindley: A lot has happened due to the fact that your book came out, with Trump’s reaction come the Mueller report, his impeachment, his that the room of Justice, and more suits against the media and others. And Trump proceeds to follow the Cohn rules. Trump famously claimed he required a Roy Cohn. Go he have actually his Roy Cohn currently in william Barr, the lawyer general?

James Zirin: Many human being have said that. Ns think Barr is much more of an ideologue. He’s not an unscrupulous lawyer as Roy Cohn was. Roy Cohn represented mobsters, and also he to be a crook. The was ultimately disbarred due to the fact that he stole $100,000 indigenous a client. He to be disbarred since his yacht went increase in flames, and a crew member was killed. He collected the insurance. The was supposed to go to his creditors, however instead the pocketed the money. He was disbarred since he made a false and misleading declaration on an application to come to be a member the the D.C. Bar, and there to be a disbarment hearing. Trump card was among a number of his personality witnesses, and he testified to Cohn’s good reputation for honesty, integrity, truth and veracity. And, that course, Cohn’s reputation for honesty, integrity, truth and also veracity was very bad.

And ~ Cohn was disbarred in 1986, trump card distanced himself from Cohn, however that was no for long because Cohn died three mainly thereafter. There to be a funeral, and also Trump stood in the back of the room and also delivered no eulogy and also never claimed much much more about him.

What we execute know about how nearby the relationship is that 30 year later, in 2016, once Trump was chosen president, that turned to gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a girlfriend of his, and he said, “Cindy, if Roy were here, he never would’ve believed it.” so we recognize that’s how close the partnership was. And also in the White home in 2017, as soon as counsel Donald McGahn was dragging his feet about firing Sessions, Trump do the famed statement, “Where’s mine Roy Cohn?”

Robin Lindley: Trump proceeds to lug lawsuits native the White House. In the last couple of weeks, he has actually sued the new York Times and CNN because that defamation. The course, he’ll never appear to it is in deposed, therefore those lawsuits will most likely go nowhere. Friend chronicle that type of of the legal device for the critical 45 years or so.

James Zirin: That’s right. He has actually sued a the majority of writers. Before he took public office, he sue the journalist Tim O’Brien because that daring to compose that his net worth to be overstated. They took his deposition, and also he demonstrably lie at least 32 times under oath, and the case was ultimately dismissed. The defense to be able to display the truth that, in fact, he had actually overstated his net worth. That was among Trump’s ill points, and also he sue whenever someone said he to be worth much less than he believed should be stated. Yet O’Brien winner his case.

And he brought other cases versus journalists. He sue an architectural doubter for the Chicago Tribune for suggesting that one of his buildings, which wasn’t even up yet was planned, would certainly be an eyesore on the horizon. The referee threw the case out due to the fact that of the dominion of opinions. To success in a libel action, you have to display that a statement of fact, i m sorry is defamatory and also false, to be made of and also concerning the plaintiff. The architect declared an opinion the the building would be an eyesore on the horizon, and also that’s no something that could ever be libelous.

Robin Lindley: You usage the term truth decay. Just how does sample of lie fit right into his attitude toward the law?

James Zirin: ns think he enjoys lying. Ns think it’s component of his DNA. I don’t think he has any type of grasp that the facts at all, so he says everything he thinks will aid him and also whatever comes right into his head. The is expedient, i suppose, to lie in litigation if you overcome an intersection v a red light. You have the right to lie and also say it was a environment-friendly light, and also that changes the legal outcome of your case. And also that’s the means Trump operates. But he would certainly go beyond that due to the fact that he would certainly say the heck v you and the equine you rode in on together he did in the home impeachment inquiry. Then he denounced Adam Schiff and also denounced Jerry Nadler and denounced the witnesses. The tried come subvert the whole proceeding by denouncing the whistleblower and by reflecting that those world who inside wall up versus him were of short character and also were us liars.

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All of this goes back to Joe McCarthy since this is the way McCarthy operated. Then adversaries accused McCarthy of engaging in a witch hunt and also accused McCarthy of generating these hoaxes. And, the course, Roy Cohn to be McCarthy’s chef counsel. And also so that learned how useful those charges deserve to be and also how destructive they deserve to be in any type of kind of controversy. And he taught every one of that come Trump, and also Trump offers that come his an excellent advantage.