Kushner lawyer seasoned in navigating Washington scandals
WASHINGTON (AP) — Abbe Lowell’s clients have included some of the country’s most prominent politicians, companies and celebrities.
The latest addition to the lawyer’s list: Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of President Donald Trump.
In selecting Lowell to represent him in Russia-related investigations before Congress and special counsel Robert Mueller, Kushner has turned to one of the best-known trial lawyers in the nation’s capital and perhaps the country. Kushner has not been accused of any wrongdoing, and there’s no indication he’s at risk of being charged. But his pick of Lowell suggests he’s bracing for lengthy government probes and wants in his corner someone with decades worth of experience confronting thorny and contentious congressional and Justice Department investigations.
It also gives him a lawyer more seasoned in navigating Washington scandals than the members of Trump’s own legal team.
“I’d say a fire in the gut,” said Stan Brand, his friend and former law partner, when asked what separates Lowell from other successful lawyers.
Lowell is someone, he added, who the government knows is “going to be able to go the distance” for his clients.
Kushner, who has indicated that he’s willing to cooperate with congressional and federal investigators, has been in the headlines amid reports that he discussed setting up a secret communications channel with the Russian government to facilitate sensitive discussions about the conflict in Syria. Lawmakers have already signaled their intent to question him over security clearance forms that omitted certain contacts with Russian government officials, something another one of his lawyers has characterized as an administrative error that was not done with any intent to obscure or hide any foreign meetings.
A Justice Department lawyer early in his career, Lowell has tried cases in more than a dozen states and over the years has expressed pride in more under-the-radar career experiences, such as successfully representing a real estate developer in the savings and loans era, and his work after the Rwandan civil war for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
But he’s best known as a fixture in Washington’s legal circles for his engagement in high-stakes criminal, civil and political disputes.
Among his most notable tasks was his 1998 representation of House Democrats in the impeachment proceedings of Bill Clinton, where he emphatically argued that the president’s actions didn’t amount to impeachable offenses. Since then, the clients he’s taken on include former Rep. Gary Condit, lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Goldman Sachs and even hip-hop star Sean “Diddy” Combs.
He worked to get charges dropped against former pro-Israel lobbyists who’d been accused of disclosing U.S. secrets, and in 2012 he successfully defended Sen. John Edwards in a high-profile campaign fraud trial in North Carolina. A federal jury acquitted Edwards of one charge and deadlocked on the others. The Justice Department ultimately dismissed the case in a stinging blow to anti-corruption prosecutors.
In a case set for trial this fall, he’s representing Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey on charges that he accepted bribes from a Florida eye doctor, and longtime friend, in exchange for acting to advance his business interests. Lowell has publicly asserted the senator’s innocence, telling reporters after the 2015 indictment, “Prosecutors at the Justice Department often get it wrong. These charges are the latest instance of that.”
He declined to comment for this story.
Known for zealous public advocacy of his clients — “I don’t have any real distance from my clients. I live in their shoes,” he told Washingtonian magazine in 2012 — Lowell is also regarded among peers for aggressive cross-examination and strategic thinking.
At the Edwards trial, for instance, he told jurors in his closing arguments that it shouldn’t take long for them to agree his client was a “bad husband, someone who lied to his family and the public about his affair and its results.” He had already admitted to wronging his family, but, Lowell pointed out, that wasn’t what he was on trial for.
“It should not take you much longer to agree that there is not the remotest chance that John did or intended to violate any federal campaign laws,” he said.
Asked in a 2013 interview with Washington Lawyer magazine about the advantages and disadvantages of representing high-profile clients, Lowell said one plus was that they tend to be accomplished, intelligent and talented. But, he noted, prosecutors sometimes feel compelled to make cases against prominent officials. And prominent officials, he suggested, are sometimes forced into legal calculations they wouldn’t have to make if they were ordinary citizens.
“On one side it’s disadvantageous to be high-profile because people who make the charging decisions feel like they have less room to decline the case,” he said. “President Clinton went into a grand jury when he was under investigation; there’s not a private citizen similarly situated whose lawyer would let them go before a grand jury in a similar case. The president of the United States had no choice but to do it.”
Lowell’s involvement in Kushner’s legal team was confirmed this week by another of Kushner’s lawyers, Jamie Gorelick, who said she had encouraged Kushner to seek independent advice on whether he wanted to continue with her law firm, WilmerHale. Mueller, the former FBI director, worked at the firm until he was tapped as special counsel last month and he picked several partners for his investigative team.
Lowell will now become the public face of Kushner’s defense, a position he knows well. He has said he adapts to the circumstances of every case he takes in how he handles the press and the public.
“Sometimes you tune it out. Sometimes you channel it,” he told Washington Lawyer. “Sometimes you try to make it your friend. Sometimes it’s good when it’s your enemy.”
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