In classified docs case, a Trump lawyer quits at a terrible time

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It’s difficult to say which of Donald Trump’s many criminal investigations are of greatest concern to his defense attorneys, but it’s a safe bet the classified documents case is near the top of the list. By all accounts, the Justice Department’s scrutiny of the controversy is intensifying, and a federal indictment remains a distinct possibility.

It’s against this backdrop that one of the former president’s lawyers working on the case quit yesterday. NBC News reported:

Timothy Parlatore, a key lawyer representing Donald Trump in a special counsel investigation of his handling of classified documents, said Wednesday that he is leaving the former president’s legal team. Parlatore had been a staunch defender of Trump, calling special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into the former president’s retention of classified documents “improper.”

There’s been some speculation about why, exactly, the defense attorney walked away, though Parlatore briefly spoke to The New York Times and said his departure was unrelated to the merits of the case. He also told Politico, “It’s personal and it’s got nothing to do with my belief in the strength of the case.”

It’s also worth noting for context that when it comes to the broader controversy, Parlatore hasn’t just served as legal counsel: As CNN, which first broke the story, noted in a report yesterday, the attorney also testified late last year before the grand jury hearing evidence in the case.

But perhaps the most notable thing about these developments is their inopportune timing.

It was just last week when Trump, facing the threat of a possible indictment, admitted during a town hall event that he improperly took sensitive materials from the White House, contradicted earlier defenses from his own legal team, and hedged when asked whether he’d showed classified documents to others.

John Fishwick, a former U.S. attorney, soon after told NBC News, “Trump’s comments hurt him, and what he said is significant. … Not only do they contradict his legal position, he admits to possession and knowledge of classified documents that he is taking from the White House. [Special counsel] Jack Smith will make good use of last night’s town hall and it will help him button up his case.”

What’s more, CNN ran a related report late yesterday, adding that officials with the National Archives have informed Team Trump that they’re prepared to provide investigators with records “that show Trump and his top advisers had knowledge of the correct declassification process while he was president.”

Hours later, another attorney for the Republican suggested during an on-air CNN interview that the Presidential Records Act empowered Trump to ignore a federal subpoena — which isn’t even close to being true.

Or put another way, this isn’t a great time for one of the former president’s attorneys to walk away from the case.

In theory, Trump might be able bring in a new lawyer to replace Parlatore, but in practice, that’s easier said than done: Prominent firms and defense attorneys have repeatedly rebuffed the Republican’s outreach — Trump is a terrible client, who confesses during town hall events, and who has a track record of not paying his bills — and there’s no reason to assume there will be a line of impressive lawyers eager to represent the scandal-plagued former president facing multiple ongoing criminal investigations.

Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer for “The Rachel Maddow Show,” the editor of MaddowBlog and an MSNBC political contributor. He’s also the bestselling author of “The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics.”

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