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Lawyers want Donald Trump ethics lawyers who represented former White House aide before Jan. 6 committee disbarred

Cassidy Hutchinson

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 28: Cassidy Hutchinson, a top former aide to Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, testifies during the sixth hearing by the House Select Committee on the January 6th insurrection in the Cannon House Office Building on June 28, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Donald Trump’s one-time ethics lawyer is facing a call for disbarment in the District of Columbia over his representation of a former White House aide who turned out to be a key witness in the congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Stefan Passantino represented Cassidy Hutchinson in multiple hearings before the now-disbanded House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol. As Law&Crime previously reported, Hutchinson told the committee that Passantino discouraged her from being completely transparent and forthcoming with congressional investigators.

“The less you remember the better,” he allegedly said according to Hutchinson, discouraging her to review her calendars in preparation for her testimony before the committee.

Passantino also allegedly kept Hutchinson in the dark as to who was funding his representation of her, and, according to her testimony, promised her a job in the former president’s orbit.

Now, a coalition of lawyers, legal scholars, and legal industry leaders have called for Passantino to be disbarred.

“The facts that have been outlined in this document reveal an array of violations of the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Responsibility that is breathtaking in its range,” the 22-page complaint, filed with the District of Columbia Office of Disciplinary Counsel on Monday, says. “We recognize that disbarment is an extreme sanction, that it is not the typical remedy for simple conflict of interest violations, and that it is often applied only after other sanctions have not deterred misconduct.”

The complaint was filed by the group Lawyers Defending American Democracy, which was launched in 2019 in response to what it described as Trump’s “attacks on [] core American democratic principles” that “undermine” the foundations of the Constitution and “threaten the rule of law.” The group says it has more than 14,000 lawyers in its ranks.

Hutchinson, who on Jan. 6 was a top aide to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, had told the House committee that Passantino had never explicitly instructed her to lie.

“He didn’t tell me to lie,” Hutchinson said of Passantino. “He told me not to lie. But ‘I don’t recall’ is not a lie” to the attorney, she said.

The complaint, however, accuses Passantino of committing “numerous serious ethical breaches,” including representing parties with competing interests, encouraging Hutchinson to mislead investigators, and possibly committing federal crimes including subornation of perjury, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and bribery of public officials and witnesses — any of which could be grounds for disbarment, even if Passantino isn’t convicted of them in court.

Passantino also engaged in “aggravating circumstances,” including exploiting a “considerable imbalance of power” between him and Hutchinson and the fact that he was “the top ethics attorney in the Trump White House,” the complaint says. It implies that Passantino preyed on one of Hutchinson’s vulnerabilities — specifically, that she was unemployed at the time and was looking for work.

“Mr. Passantino knew from the outset that she did not have a job and was actively seeking one,” the complaint says, citing Hutchinson’s testimony before the House committee. “On the morning of her first appearance before the Committee, as they were having breakfast together, Mr. Passantino brought up, for the first time, the issue of her ongoing job search. ‘I want to talk to you about potential job opportunities,’ he said. ‘Let’s do it at the end of today, though. Today’s going to be a good day. I want to end it on a good note for you.'”

Among the most prominent of Passantino’s alleged ethics breaches was his failure to provide Hutchinson with “candid” and “independent advice” due to his connections with — and apparently loyalty to — “Trump World.”

“It is apparent that Mr. Passantino felt a powerful allegiance to others in the same matter in which he had agreed to represent Ms. Hutchinson,” the complaint says. “Yet, he failed to disclose or explain those conflicts to her or to comply with the other requirements of the DC rules regarding the representation of multiple interests.”

According to the complaint, the best interests of “Trump World” and Hutchinson were at odds.

“[I]t is apparent that Mr. Passantino believed that the Trump interests could be served most effectively only by limiting the extent of any testimony by Ms. Hutchinson disclosing material facts concerning the events of January 6,” the complaint says, noting that Hutchinson’s interests, meanwhile, could only be served by “testimony that fulfilled her legal obligations and that minimized her exposure” to perjury or contempt of Congress charges. “The divergence of interests between Ms. Hutchinson and ‘Trump World’ is so vast that there is no practical means by which he could faithfully fulfill his duty of loyalty to each of them.”

Despite having an ethical requirement to disclose these conflicts, however, the complaint says that Passantino failed to do so.

“On the contrary, the available information strongly supports the conclusion that, in fact, Mr. Passantino gave precedence to his serve to ‘Trump World’ over his duty of loyalty to Ms. Hutchinson’s interests.”

The complaint also alleges, citing Hutchinson’s own testimony transcript, that Passantino went directly against Hutchinson’s wishes when he told New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman about Hutchinson’s third appearance before the House committee, despite Hutchinson having told him she didn’t want the reporter to have any information. According to the complaint, Passantino also violated client confidentiality by talking about her testimony with two of his law firm partners who were representing Meadows, despite Hutchinson having “repeatedly and forcefully told him that she did not want him to do that.”

The former Trump ethics lawyer also allegedly tried to procure false testimony from Hutchinson ahead of her appearances before the committee.

“Mr. Passantino strove to shape Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony to protect ‘Trump World’ from any compromising content that might emerge from that testimony,” the complaint says. “In the process, Mr. Passantino seriously compromised Ms. Hutchinson’s interests and placed her in legal jeopardy.”

The complaint praised Hutchinson’s “courageous and extraordinary efforts” to push back against Passantino’s alleged misconduct. She ultimately got a different attorney.

“Her service to the interests of American democracy and the rule of law cannot be overstated,” the complaint says.

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The letter is signed by dozens of lawyers, professors, and industry leaders, including a former president of the American Bar Association, former DC Bar presidents, federal prosecutors, state supreme court justices, and a former two-time Massachusetts attorney general.

Passantino, who was previously accused of lying to government ethics officials about the Trump-directed payment to Stormy Daniels, is also facing a complaint from The 65 Project, which seeks sanctions for lawyers who filed lawsuits over disproven voter fraud claims in the 2020 presidential election.

Passantino’s lawyer Ross Garber provided Law&Crime with his response to The 65 Project’s ethics complaint.

“The substance of the letter is frivolous and ill-informed,” Garber said in the statement. “It contains out-of-context quotes that are cherry-picked from many days of transcribed interviews. It is a transparent effort to smear a lawyer who has had a 30-year distinguished career.”

Read the Lawyers Defending American Democracy complaint here.

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