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Trump’s Russia Lawyer Isn’t Seeking Security Clearance, And May Have Trouble Getting One

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

The ongoing investigations into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia involve reams of classified material. Yet Marc Kasowitz, the New York lawyer whom President Donald Trump has hired to defend him in these inquiries, told ProPublica through a spokesman that he does not have a security clearance — the prerequisite for access to government secrets. Nor does he expect to seek one.

Several lawyers who have represented presidents and senior government officials said they could not imagine handling a case so suffused with sensitive material without a clearance.

“No question in my mind — in order to represent President Trump in this matter you would have to get a very high level of clearance because of the allegations involving Russia,” said Robert Bennett, who served as President Bill Clinton’s personal lawyer. Like many Washington lawyers, Bennett has held security clearances throughout his career.

As the spotlight on Russia intensifies with new email disclosures that his son, son-in-law, and then-campaign manager met in June 2016 with a Russian attorney who promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton, Kasowitz’s lack of a security clearance could hinder the president’s legal and political response to the scandal.

One possible explanation for Kasowitz’s decision not to pursue a clearance: He might have trouble getting one.

In recent weeks, ProPublica spoke with more than two dozen current and former employees of Kasowitz’s firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, as well as his friends and acquaintances. Past and present employees of the firm said in interviews that Kasowitz has struggled intermittently with alcohol abuse, leading to a stint in rehab in the winter of 2014-15.

Several people told ProPublica that Kasowitz has been drinking in recent months. (The vast majority of those who spoke to ProPublica for this article declined to be quoted by name, citing Kasowitz’s penchant for threatening lawsuits.)

Experts on federal security reviews told ProPublica that recent episodes of alcohol abuse are a major barrier to receiving clearance, a process that involves government agents poring over a person’s past and interviewing family, friends and colleagues. Investigators typically raise flags about behaviors that might make someone vulnerable to blackmail or suggest poor judgment.

Kasowitz’s spokesman said he doesn’t need a clearance. “No one has suggested he requires a security clearance, there has been no need for a security clearance, and we do not anticipate a need for a security clearance,” the spokesman said. “If and when a security clearance is needed, Mr. Kasowitz will apply for one with the other members of the legal team.”

Kasowitz’s spokesman did not directly respond to questions about whether he has struggled with alcohol abuse, but said the attorney is able to drink in moderation without a problem.

While not a government employee, Kasowitz has become a public face of the administration on the Russia case. Last month, he went before the cameras to deliver the president’s response to the landmark testimony of fired FBI Director James Comey. White House officials have regularly referred media inquiries about Russia-related matters, including queries about Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn, to Kasowitz.

In Washington, where every word and action of the president’s lawyer is scrutinized, Kasowitz is a neophyte. Instead of negotiating deals among the capital’s power brokers or fending off FBI investigations, Kasowitz, 65, built a lucrative practice in civil court suing banks and representing, among others, a leading tobacco company.

Kasowitz has been described by colleagues in the scrappy world of New York lawyers as the “toughest of the tough guys.” Bloomberg News called him a “Pit Bull Loyal to The Boss” while The New York Times described him as “the Donald Trump of lawyering.” His aggressive legal style has spurred rebukes from two judges.

For over 15 years, he represented Donald Trump, earning the president’s loyalty through his eager pugilism. Kasowitz has defended him in the Trump University fraud lawsuit. He fought to keep records from Trump’s 1990 divorce private, and threatened to sue The New York Times for publishing a story in which women accused Trump of unwanted touching and sexual assault. He also recently represented Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly after multiple women accused O’Reilly of sexual harassment.

Before representing Trump in the Russia inquiry, Kasowitz was informally advising the president. He has told friends he recommended firing Preet Bharara because the crusading prosecutor posed a danger to the administration. He has told people Trump wanted him to be attorney general.

Trump reportedly sought a classic Washington lawyer to represent him on Russia before choosing Kasowitz. Initially Kasowitz was reluctant to take it on. “He didn’t seek this,” said Joseph Lieberman, the former senator and Democratic vice presidential candidate who is now senior counsel at the firm. “In the end, the president said, ‘I need you. I know you and trust you.’”

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