You might have noticed that President Donald J. Trump is in a bit of legal trouble.
Trump is lining up a legal defense team. His point man is Marc Kasowitz, a brash attorney who has defended Trump in several lawsuits, including one concerning fraud allegations at Trump University.
But Kasowitz has no experience in constitutional law, so Trump is augmenting his legal team. Among his legal eagles is a name longtime readers of this blog may find familiar: Jay Sekulow.
Religious Right attorney Jay Sekulow has joined President Donald Trump's legal defense team.
In the early 1990s, Sekulow was tapped by TV preacher Pat Robertson to run a legal group called the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the primary aim of which was to chip away at the church-state wall. For a number of years, it was the nation’s largest Religious Right legal outfit, although these days it has been eclipsed by Alliance Defending Freedom.
But Sekulow is still plugging along. The ACLJ’s budget is nearly $20 million, and a separate group Sekulow runs, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, has a staggering $53 million in revenue, although it’s unclear what exactly the group does.
Back in 2005, Legal Times reporter Tony Mauro penned an excellent exposé examining how Sekulow has used these non-profits to enrich himself and members of his family. Mauro quoted some anonymous Sekulow critics from the evangelical right, but that apparently didn’t stop the flow of money.
Sekulow has always claimed to be an advocate of religious liberty, but in 2010 he worked actively against that principle after an Islamic group in New York City announced plans to build an Islamic center in lower Manhattan. Buying property and opening a house of worship would seem to be a fundamental expression of religious liberty, but Sekulow and his gang felt differently. Fanning the flames of Islamophobia, they dubbed the facility the “Ground Zero Mosque” – even though it was two blocks from the 9/11 site and wasn’t a mosque.
Grasping at any legal straws, the ACLJ filed suit, claiming that a building that would have to be razed to house the center was historic. The structure did date to the 1850s, but it was hardly iconic – it had been damaged during the terrorist attack, and prior to that, had been home to a Burlington Coat Factory.
A New York court dismissed Sekulow’s lawsuit, but plans for the Islamic center fell through after its backers were unable to raise enough money. Current plans are to convert the building into luxury condominiums, although there’s still talk about an Islamic museum being included.
Despite his odd definition of religious freedom, even Sekulow’s critics agree that he can be an effective attorney. He has won a few cases at the Supreme Court. But, like Kasowitz, Sekulow is no expert in the constitutional issues that Trump is facing.
So why, then, has he been appointed to the Trump legal effort? Sekulow does bring certain skills to the table. He’s polished and effective in the media, and Trump has already dispatched him to do some Sunday morning talk shows.
More importantly, Sekulow’s elevation gives Trump another opportunity to show solidarity with what is perhaps Trump’s last remaining constituency: the Religious Right.
Trump currently enjoys a 34 percent approval rating, an all-time low for a new president. The White House is widely regarded as being in disarray. Longtime allies overseas are turning away from us. Trump hasn’t been able to pass any significant legislation.
By any honest metric, things are doing downhill fast. But in the Bizarro World of the Religious Right, everything is peachy keen. The day James Comey, former director of the FBI, testified before a Senate committee and called Trump a liar, the American Family Association issued an email asserting that Comey’s testimony had vindicated Trump.
It’s worth noting that as Comey was delivering his damaging testimony, Trump was addressing Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition, basking once again in the adoration of the Religious Right – one of the few groups still willing to give him that.
Trump rode into office on a wave of Religious Right support. His decision to add Sekulow to his legal team is an indication that he intends to rely on members of that theocratic movement to keep him there.