The mounting evidence that Donald Trump mishandled classified information after leaving office — and the response of his legal team to the Department of Justice investigation — reveals the former president’s threat to another critical institution: the legal profession.
As part of the Justice Department’s efforts to recover classified materials Trump took with him from the White House, Trump’s lawyer Christina Bobb certified on June 3 that all of the documents had been relinquished. The FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago debunked this certification, placing Bobb and others in legal jeopardy.
The legal threat to Trump’s lawyers is hardly new. The sheer number of prominent lawyers accused of violations of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct — the law that governs lawyers — in their advocacy for Trump is unparalleled in American history.
Throughout Trump’s presidency, constitutional scholars and political scientists raised alarms about his blatant disregard for the law and his ongoing efforts to undermine democratic institutions. The legal troubles facing Trump’s lawyers are frequently interpreted, however, as a secondary consequence of his presidency — certainly a danger to Trump and the individuals involved, but hardly a threat to the broader system of justice.
But that perspective overlooks the critical role that lawyers play in our system of jurisprudence and the extent of the ethical lapses. Our society places a practical reliance on prosecutors to try cases and on defense attorneys to ensure the law does not overreach. The justice system also requires lawyers to act ethically when discharging these duties. If, for example, lawyers knowingly were to help their clients lie on the stand or make false attestations to judges, our justice system would crumble. There is a reason lawyers are “officers of the court” — their responsibilities extend not only to their clients but