Courts and bar associations have rushed to discipline lawyers who assisted former President Donald Trump in pursuing his claims of a “stolen” election, yet the lawyers who helped Democrats peddle now-discredited Russia conspiracy theories about Mr. Trump have faced no apparent discipline from their colleagues.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney at the end of his presidency, was not hit with criminal charges for furthering Mr. Trump’s claims, but his license to practice law was suspended in New York and the District of Columbia.
Michael Sussmann, who peddled claims that Mr. Trump’s team was colluding with a Russian bank but was acquitted of lying to the FBI about his ties to motives for the accusations, has not been debarred. His claims were disputed at the time and have since been debunked.
Kevin Clinesmith, a former FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty in August 2020 to altering an email to justify the bureau’s wiretapping of a Trump campaign figure, agreed to suspend his license to practice law in the District for a year. He was reinstated last fall, before his criminal sentence of 12 months of probation concluded.
The Michigan Bar suspended Mr. Clinesmith’s license for two years. He is expected to be reinstated in August.
Another former FBI lawyer, Lisa Page, who was ousted after text messages between her and her FBI agent paramour exposed deep anti-Trump bias, remains in good standing with the bar in Ohio, where she went to law school.
Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump’s 2016 opponent, has never drawn legal sanctions on her ability to practice law despite having violated State Department policy in using a secret email server, including trading classified email.
Mrs. Clinton also personally approved plans to have Mr. Sussmann try to gin up interest in the Russia conspiracy theories, according to evidence at Mr. Sussmann’s trial last month.
Ty Clevenger, who has unsuccessfully pursued a bar complaint against Mrs. Clinton in the past, said the process is “rabidly partisan.”
“If you represent Donald Trump, you’re fair game. They will make something up in order to come after your license, but if you’re one of Hillary’s lawyers, you are untouchable,” he said.
A spokesperson for Mrs. Clinton did not respond to a request for comment.
States regulate law licenses differently. Some give power to courts, and others rely on bar associations to police lawyers.
In Texas, the state bar last month brought a lawsuit for professional misconduct against Attorney General Ken Paxton. It doesn’t stem from his 2015 indictment on securities fraud charges but rather his effort to ask the Supreme Court to toss 2020 election results from some states.
In New York, a panel of judges ordered one-time Trump attorney Michael Cohen disbarred in 2019 after felony convictions including campaign finance and tax fraud.
Mr. Cohen told The Washington Times that the New York State Bar Association “failed me as a lawyer and as a member.”
“Not a single word of condemnation was uttered by them when my law office was raided by the FBI; violating the sanctity of attorney-client privilege,” Mr. Cohen said. “Instead, the NYSBA played the political game and only contacted me to verify my address to serve me with disbarment papers.”
One Democratic-aligned group, The 65 Project, is dedicated to extracting prices from those who helped sell Mr. Trump’s overzealous claims about 2020 election fraud to courts and the public.
Named after Mr. Trump’s dozens of election-related lawsuits, The 65 Project is targeting more than 100 lawyers in 26 states, according to Axios.
Michael Teter, managing director of The 65 Project, said if there is a disparity in the way Mr. Trump’s attorneys have been treated, that’s because it’s warranted.
“More Trump advisers and lawyers should face prosecution for their roles in seeking to overturn American democracy, which a federal court has labeled a criminal conspiracy,” Mr. Teter said.
Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law, said Democratic-aligned attorneys might avoid professional misconduct complaints because of a lack of conservative groups willing or able to target them.
“Filing these sorts of complaints takes time and effort. Groups like 65 are funded for that sole purpose. I don’t think any similar groups exist on the right. Also, conservatives are hesitant to ‘weaponize’ the bar, so are less inclined to seek these remedies,” he said.
The two highest-profile test cases so far are Mr. Sussmann’s and Mr. Giuliani’s.
Mr. Sussmann just emerged from a trial where prosecutors said he deceived the FBI. They said he hid the fact that he was on the clock for the Clinton campaign when he went to the FBI to try to interest them in pursuing a false story linking Mr. Trump’s computer servers to a Russian bank.
A jury in the District found Mr. Sussmann not guilty.
Mr. Sussmann remains in good standing with the D.C. Bar. Its website lists that no disciplinary actions have been initiated against him.
A spokesperson for the association, speaking before the jury’s verdict, declined to go into detail but said Mr. Sussmann didn’t have a criminal conviction on his record.
Neither does Mr. Giuliani, but that didn’t stop the D.C. Bar from suspending his license last year. That move was automatically triggered by the state of New York, which suspended his law license because he made “demonstrably false and misleading statements” about the 2020 election.
A 33-page order issued in June 2021 by the New York Supreme Court said Mr. Giuliani, a former prosecutor and mayor of New York City, violated rules of professional conduct by making “demonstrably false and misleading statements” about the 2020 election to courts, lawmakers and the public.
“These false statements were made to improperly bolster respondent’s narrative that due to widespread voter fraud, victory in the 2020 United States presidential election was stolen from his client,” the court said in its order.
The court concluded that Mr. Giuliani’s conduct threatens the “public interest.”
Mr. Guiliani did not respond to a request for comment for this article. He has argued in the past that the First Amendment protected his statements about the 2020 election.
Meanwhile, the State Bar of Texas moved in March to punish Ms. Powell for her work on behalf of Mr. Trump challenging several swing states’ election results. The bar filed a request with a Dallas County court to reprimand or even disbar the conservative lawyer.
Mr. Wood is facing complaints in Georgia.
Mr. Eastman, a law professor who advised the former president’s attorneys on legal avenues to overturn the election, is fighting punishment from the California state bar after a group of legal scholars petitioned bar officials last year.
In March, the state bar announced an ethics investigation into Mr. Eastman.
“By law, we cannot discuss the details of any particular investigation,” said George Cardona, the state bar’s chief trial counsel. “Speaking generally, every lawyer admitted to practice in California takes an oath outlined by statute: to support the Constitution of the United States and the California Constitution, and to faithfully discharge their duties to the best of their knowledge and ability. California statutes and the Rules of Professional Conduct require lawyers to exercise honesty, integrity, and accountability in the course of their professional practice. Failure to adhere to the rules and statutes that govern the practice of lawyers may result in them being subject to discipline, in keeping with the State Bar’s public protection mission.”
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said a double standard is apparent.
“There is a strikingly different response to Democratic lawyers who challenge elections or even commit crimes in high-profile political cases,” he said. “The chorus of outrage over lawyers participating in deceitful or unlawful conduct goes remarkably silent when such allegations are raised against those working for Democratic interests. In an age of rage, ethical relativity is essential.”
Mr. Clevenger, no stranger to fights over who polices practicing of law and who has fought attempts to discipline him, said lodging complaints against Democratic-associated lawyers seems to be treated differently.
“It just seems futile,” he said. “These left-wing bar associations protect liberals and Democrats.”
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