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  1. Another tragedy strikes Afghanistan with no coherent U.S. policy in sight

    The latest attack is further proof that Trump has failed to approach sustainable policy approach to tackle Afghanistan’s problems.

    fghans carry an injured man after a suicide car bombing in Helmand province southern of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, June 22, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Abdul Khaliq

    Over 250 people have died in mass attacks in Afghanistan since April — a sign that America’s longest war isn’t getting any better under the Trump administration.

    On Thursday, at least 34 people were killed and 60 wounded when a car bomb went off outside of a bank in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province. Both civilians and security forces were among the casualties, many of whom were lined up to collect their salaries when the explosion occurred. Several journalists and media workers were also among the casualties.

    “I was waiting in front of the bank to take my salary, but I was worried about an explosion so I didn’t join the crowd,” Rahmatullah, a border police officer who sustained an injury to his leg, told the Guardian. “And then suddenly the blast happened. I saw [a] lot of injured and dead people.”

    Helmand has long been a Taliban stronghold, and the extremist group quickly claimed responsibility for the blast.

    Thursday’s attack is just the latest tragedy to strike Afghanistan, which has experienced an uptick in violence recently. On Sunday, suicide bombers attacked a police station in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least five people and leaving another 30 wounded, many of whom were civilians. In late May, a truck bombing in Kabul, near an area frequented by diplomats and considered one of the city’s safest areas, killed 80 people and injured 350. A massive attack on a military base in April also saw high casualties. There have been multiple mass-casualty attacks in the country over the course of the last three months — as of Thursday, those attacks have killed more than 250 people.

    The recent tragedies are a grim reminder that Afghanistan, which has suffered through decades of war, is still a volatile place for many. But they’re also yet another indicator that the United States, which has spent 16 years at war in the country, is no closer to developing a sustainable policy approach to tackle Afghanistan’s problems. If anything, President Donald Trump’s administration has repeatedly failed to establish its long-term plan for the country, where U.S. policy has often hurt more than helped.

    The Trump administration has no idea what it’s doing in Afghanistan

    More than 2,300 U.S. citizens have been killed in Afghanistan since the war began, and another 17,000 have been injured (numbers are much higher for Afghans, who have endured the brunt of the war’s losses.) Under former President Barack Obama, efforts were made to scale back the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but Trump has taken the opposite approach. While most analysts are skeptical that the Taliban — the country’s primary source of violence — can be defeated by an increase in military might, the U.S. president has indicated he’s ready to do just that. Last week, Trump gave Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis complete authority to determine troop levels in Afghanistan.

    Mattis, who has acknowledged the United States is in a stalemate with the Taliban, has said he will brief policymakers on his plans by mid-July.

    “We are not winning in Afghanistan right now,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee the day of Trump’s announcement. “And we will correct this as soon as possible.” Reuters noted that correction is expected to involve a call for thousands more U.S. troops on the ground.

    Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the committee’s chairman, also told Mattis he believed there needs to be “a change in strategy, and an increase in resources if we are to turn the situation around” in Afghanistan.

    Turning the situation around will be easier said than done. At present, the Afghan government is believed to control around 59.7 percent of the country, with the Taliban overseeing around 40 percent by some estimates. While those numbers have fluctuated over the years, they still speak to an unchanging, and underlying, problem, one that no amount of U.S. interference has solved. Even with thousands more troops in the country, Obama was still unable to sway the direction of the war or of Afghanistan’s warring factions.

    Trump himself has reversed course more than once when it comes to Afghanistan. “It is time to get out of Afghanistan,” he tweeted in 2012. “We are building roads and schools for people that hate us. It is not in our national interests.”

    It is time to get out of Afghanistan. We are building roads and schools for people that hate us. It is not in our national interests.

     — @realdonaldtrump

    But now the president seems to have changed his mind. Despite rarely mentioning the country on the campaign trail or during his first months in office, Trump abruptly switched tracks in April when the Pentagon detonated the “Massive Ordnance Air Blast” or the “Mother of All Bombs,” in Nangarhar, located in eastern Afghanistan.

    “Everybody knows exactly what happened,” Trump said following the blast. “What I do is I authorize my military. We have the greatest military in the world and they’ve done a job, as usual.” Vice President Mike Pence later said the bombing, along with another strike in Syria, was meant to send a warning to North Korea, indicating both countries had been used as props in a larger show of aggression.

    With the Trump administration stepping up troop numbers in Afghanistan, the long-suffering nation may receive more U.S. attention than it has since Trump took office. But according to the New York Times, White House officials are still debating just what exactly a U.S. role in Afghanistan should look like — with no coherent approach emerging.

    In the meantime, residents in areas like Helmand are still working through the aftermath of tragedy, a trend they have endured for many, many years.


    Another tragedy strikes Afghanistan with no coherent U.S. policy in sight was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

  2. New documentary puts trans people on both sides of the camera

    ‘More Than T’ shows how trans people tell trans stories.

    CREDIT: More Than T

    One might think that a documentary made largely by transgender people that tells the stories of seven transgender people would mostly be about transgender issues. But it’s not — and that’s the point.

    On Friday night, Showtime will premiere More Than T, a look into the lives of seven very different trans people who have far more to say about themselves than what it was like to transition.

    “Attorney, Artist, Actor, Advocate, Counselor, Mentor, Minister” — these are the terms the documentary uses to introduce its subjects, and they’re only the beginning of each person’s story.

    https://medium.com/media/e435fa20ae02e816bdf934ce73ba86e7/href

    The film is a project of the M·A·C AIDS Fund, a charity founded by M·A·C Cosmetics. The organization sought out Silas Howard, the first trans director on the Amazon show Transparent, with the goal of creating a series of vignettes. Howard recruited Jen Richards of Her Story and Nashville to help out, and the project turned into a film and an even wider education effort.

    This Webseries Sets A New Standard For Media Made By LGBT People

    “We really wanted a diversity of voices to be represented,” Howard told ThinkProgress in an interview. “It’s still sorely lacking in mainstream media, and what’s interesting about gender nonconforming and trans communities is we’re so often at the intersection of the most vulnerable.” The film captures these intersections across race, gender presentation, socioeconomic class, and age, portraying a community that fails to fit into a single mold.

    “They’re so inspiring in that — in spite of everything they’ve been through — they talk about their circumstantial privilege and that they are still the anomaly and they’re reaching toward helping other people,” he said. “That gratitude and grace that they all embody is just very inspirational to me.”

    More Than T arrives just as many are engaged in a renewed conversation about the importance of casting trans actors in trans roles.

    For instance, the announcement of cisgender actor Matt Bomer’s starring role as a transgender woman in the film Anything raised concerns last August — and the first preview clip for the film, released last week, seems to confirm fears that the movie will fall into familiar tropes.

    By casting Bomer, the film regurgitates an all-too-familiar, narrow portrayal of a transgender character: the role is played by a cis actor; the character is a sex worker; the character is worthy of pity but not respect; and the character is not “passable” in their gender presentation.

    In response, several trans actors produced a new video explaining why Hollywood must do better by them.

    https://medium.com/media/bdb553ebf19392123d943772af5cccd9/href

    Howard’s documentary casts an even darker shadow on this stale portrayal, and he believes that trans people telling trans stories adds a certain urgency to the project.

    “The media may have a certain focus and storytelling may have a certain focus, but we’re not isolated in a bubble of our own identities and needs,” he said. “We’re all codeswitching. We’re all coming from different backgrounds.” Likewise, Howard didn’t make the film for a trans audience. “This is maybe the filmmaker’s delusion, but I make my work for everyone,” he said. “I hope that the specificity makes it universal. I hope people that think they have nothing in common with anyone in this community feels touched by somebody’s experience in the world.”

    And the film doesn’t stand alone. Its cast, along with numerous other members of the transgender community, also feature in a series of “Trans 102” PSAs that Richards wrote and produced in partnership with Refinery29. These videos cover a variety of topics, including basic language and pronouns, trans visibility in the media, trans health care needs, being trans in school, and of course, bathroom access.

    https://medium.com/media/c62d2f6b26cfcdc21c344187d6c045ef/href

    So viewers can learn from the film that trans lives are far more complex than just the steps involved in transitioning, but still come away equipped with resources to better understand how to respect trans people.

    Howard hopes the film can be an opportunity for viewers to reflect on empathy and compassion at a time when it can feel like those things are in short supply.

    “I feel like right now it’s crucial for all of us because we’re so targeted, because this administration is just so hateful and it’s really bringing out this toxic blame,” he said. “I like the idea of spending time in our day to try to understand what other people are going through, and I hope that this adds to that. Stepping outside our lives — that’s what storytelling does for us.”

    More Than T premieres Friday night on Showtime and is also available on demand.


    New documentary puts trans people on both sides of the camera was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

  3. Trump brags about lying on Twitter to influence Comey’s sworn testimony

    Trump admits he purposely misled the public about “tapes.”

    CREDIT: Fox News screengrab

    In President Trump’s first interview in more than a month, he admitted that he falsely suggested his conversations with former FBI director James Comey were taped to influence Comey’s sworn testimony.

    Trump acknowledged he didn’t actually make any tapes on Thursday. But speaking to Fox & Friends in an interview that aired Friday morning, Trump said the “tapes” tweet was just a ruse to keep Comey honest.

    James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!

     — @realDonaldTrump

    “When he found out that there may be tapes out there — whether it’s governmental tapes or anything else, and who knows — I think his story may have changed,” Trump said. “You’ll have to take a look at that because then he has to tell what actually took place at the events. And my story didn’t change — my story was always a straight story, my story always was the truth. But you’ll have to determine for yourself whether or not his story changed, but I did not tape.”

    @POTUS on why he wanted former FBI Dir. James Comey to believe there were tapes of their conversations https://t.co/pCuibM5Z6k

     — @foxandfriends

    In response to Trump’s comments, interviewer Ainsley Earhardt praised him, saying “it was a smart way to make sure [Comey] stayed honest during those hearings.”

    “It wasn’t very stupid, I can tell you that,” Trump said. “He did admit that what I said was right. And if you look further back before he heard about [the ‘tapes’ tweet], I think maybe he wasn’t admitting that. So you’ll have to do a little investigative reporting to determine that, but I don’t think it’ll be that hard.”

    Trump’s public admission that he was trying to influence sworn testimony before Congress could be considered witness intimidation or obstruction.

    Trump’s suggestion that he force Comey to tell the truth also directly contradicts his previously statements. In a tweet posted following Comey’s testimony, Trump characterized the former FBI director as a liar.

    Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication...and WOW, Comey is a leaker!

     — @realDonaldTrump

    During another part of the Fox & Friends interview, Trump expressed annoyance with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, characterizing Mueller’s relationship with Comey as “bothersome.” He went on to assert his innocence of any wrongdoing.

    “Look, there has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion,” Trump said. “There has been leaking by Comey, but there’s been no collusion, no obstruction, and virtually everybody agrees to that.”

    There has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion. There has been leaking by Comey." -@POTUS https://t.co/tqpEuMNUJM

     — @foxandfriends

    During congressional testimony last month, former CIA Director John Brennan confirmed he’s aware of communications between the Trump campaign and Russian officials that sparked concern about possible collusion.

    Brennan declined to get into details, saying that specifics about the people involved and what was said remain classified. But he said he “encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals, and it raised questions in my mind whether or not the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”

    That “information and intelligence,” Brennan added, led to the FBI’s counterintelligence probe of the Trump campaign, which began in July 2016 and is now being handled by Mueller.

    In Trump’s last interview more than a month ago on NBC, he admitted to firing former FBI Director James Comey because of his annoyance with an active investigation into his campaign.


    Trump brags about lying on Twitter to influence Comey’s sworn testimony was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

  4. What’s next for Uber?

    Hint: The solution still involves founder and ex-CEO Travis Kalanick.

    Exterior view of the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Risberg

    Uber is a hot mess. But it didn’t just get that way.

    For a company that’s just six years old, Uber has already racked up quite a strong list of contenders for “Worst Year Ever.” There was 2014, when an executive was overheard threatening to stalk and harass a journalist who had written a critical story, and a litany of attacks committed by drivers against their passengers, which CEO Travis Kalanick flippantly dismissed in an infamous GQ profile. Or 2016, when the company lost several legal fights brought by drivers, regulators, and labor boards. But the world’s largest ride-sharing company has truly begun to crumble in 2017, the culmination of years of reporting on the company’s brash and fraternity-esque work culture.

    In a 2014 Vanity Fair piece, investors characterized Kalanick’s personality and leadership style almost fondly, crediting him for using “douche as a tactic, not a strategy” and dismissing critics by arguing that “it’s hard to be a disrupter and not be an asshole.” Kalanick likened himself to “fire and brimstone,” saying he was a “passionate entrepreneur.”

    For any organization, workplace culture is usually dictated by leadership from the top down. But when that culture is toxic, a company rots like a diseased tree — crumbling from the inside and then collapsing altogether.

    The Uber we’ve come to know fully collapsed late Tuesday when Kalanick resigned as CEO, under pressure from five of the company’s biggest investors. He still controls a majority of the company’s voting shares and maintains his seat on the board of directors.

    The sexist workplace culture at Uber that Travis Kalanick leaves in his wake

    The great Uber scandal of 2017—former engineer Susan Fowler’s scathing indictment of the company’s pervasive sexism combined with an executive exodus—was the catalyst for that collapse, triggering a harassment probe that led to more than 20 firings, two executive and board member resignations, and now the resignation of the company’s CEO.

    But there were other signs that Uber’s do-what-you-want-and-win-at-all costs culture was harmful to its employees. Thirty-three year old Joseph Thomas killed himself in April after working just five months at Uber. In less than half a year, the father and husband who taught himself to code felt beaten down by Uber’s culture, his wife Zecole Thomas told USA Today. It was a culture where Thomas discouraged his wife from visiting him at lunch because it wasn’t “that kind of environment” and, in the lead up to his suicide, he began questioning his own skills that he honed at LinkedIn. He had no history of mental health issues, nor did he display any difficulty in handling stress. But he was black — and, like Fowler, a minority at a company that seemed to facilitate marginalization on every level of management.

    Uber’s exclusion of women and people of color, while not atypical for Silicon Valley, was likely a byproduct of the company’s “always be hustling” ethos that rewarded high-performers regardless of how inappropriate their behavior. And as is often the case, those excluded groups can often be barometers for a company’s culture — leaving companies with toxic environments at a higher rate than their white male counterparts.

    “Values are hot air. They don’t mean anything. If you go work in an organization, they say ‘we value integrity’ or ‘we value team work’ — God knows what it really means.”

    Armed with 47 recommendations from an investigation led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, a newly appointed COO to oversee business changes, and Kalanick’s resignation from CEO, there’s an opportunity for change at the ride-sharing company.

    But what does it mean for a company to change its culture? Is it even possible for Uber — a multi-billion dollar company that derived its success from bending and breaking the rules — to survive such catastrophic events?

    Charles O’Reilly, an organizational business management professor at Stanford University, says it is, but there are a lot of variables.

    “Often what happens when people talk about culture, they talk about values,” he said. “Values are hot air. They don’t mean anything. If you go work in an organization, they say ‘we value integrity’ or ‘we value team work’ — God knows what it really means.”

    Real values, O’Reilly said, are “the pattern of behavior that’s reinforced by people on systems.” The people in this equation are senior management, middle management, and then your peers. The system is how those people are rewarded. That is how duties and tasks are measured, what behavior is rewarded and approved of, and what gets employees high status.

    “When there is great agreement about what the pattern of behavior is that you have to engage in to succeed, that is a social control system,” he said.

    Every organization — non-profits, government, startups, and major corporations — has a system. And for employees to be deemed successful, they have two choices: assimilate to the culture or risk being outcast.

    “What you’re trying to drive out is behaviors that are associated with not being respectful and inclusive of others…You want to be very clear with people that that’s not going to tolerated in the future.”

    At Uber, boorish behavior—even crossing ethical or moral lines—was not only tolerated, but expected in the pursuit of getting results.

    “You’ve got to push the boundaries, you’ve got to constantly do whatever it takes to perform. That’s who Kalanick is,” O’Reilly said. “What that ultimately legitimizes is behavior where people can be aggressive, people can cross ethical or moral boundary lines. And part of the problem is, they’ve succeeded in part because of that.”

    The sexual harassment, inappropriate company outings, and the exclusion of women and people of color all became permissible — and rewarded. But whether or not that changes with any permanence will likely still hinge on Kalanick, who remains integral to Uber’s business as a founding board member. Kalanick also still has control of the board through super-voting powers and strong allies. According to an email obtained by Buzzfeed, Uber managers are urging employees to sign a petition to reinstate Kalanick that reads: “Uber is T.K. and T.K. is Uber. I don’t see another leader doing as good a job as him, external or internal.”

    To change, Uber will need to rebuild from the root, implementing new behaviors and examples for employees to emulate.

    That usually doesn’t happen without a change in leadership. Even with Kalanick’s role reduced, that change could be undermined if he’s still viewed by employees as a de facto leader — and if his behavior doesn’t change.

    Uber will have to navigate from one end of the spectrum of Silicon Valley’s sexist and discriminatory corporate culture, to the other, adopting a zero-tolerance workplace where derogatory comments, retaliation, harassment, and exclusion are punished without exception. It must also become a place where leadership proactively seeks diverse applicants, and models an environment where everyone feels listened to and comfortable speaking up.

    “People aren’t diverse, the environment is homogenous.”

    Joelle Emerson, founder and CEO at Paradigm in San Francisco, has helped shape diversity programs for tech companies throughout Silicon Valley, including Uber’s biggest competitor Lyft. For her, Uber’s problems are in a sense everyone’s, because diversity and inclusion issues are often subtle in workplaces.

    “I’ve been kind of worried that other tech companies would distance themselves from Uber because it’s very extreme,” Emerson said.

    Companies and their products influence daily life. But “given our political climate, we’re going to have to rely on companies to drive social change,” she said.

    There are three types of companies, she said: those that mimic the systemic inequalities that exist in broader society; those that amplify inequities, such as Uber; and those that aspire to be a workplace that tries to correct them.

    Emerson said most of the recommendations given to Uber were pretty good, but added that there’s cause for concern with how diversity was discussed without the necessary caveats.

    For example, the report recommended anonymizing resumes as a new policy to get a better applicant pool. But that doesn’t always work and can sometimes encourage more homogeneity.

    The Rooney rule, which mandates an organization have one representative of a marginalized group in the management tier, was another example. It’s a good goal, Emerson said, but also doesn’t always work in practice. It could lead to tokenism rather than inclusion and stagnate employees’ growth.

    Setting goals, not quotas, for representation is important, she said, but there has to be a strategy there to support it.

    The workforces at Uber and other tech companies need to focus on demanding accountability on inclusion and diversity initiatives rather than reactive apologies after bad behavior, Emerson said.

    In the months and years ahead, Uber employees can expect to feel some discomfort as the culture shifts, Holder’s recommendations are implemented, and new faces give marching orders. After all, change is hard even when everyone agrees it needs to happen.

    “If inequality felt normal to you, then equality feels like discrimination.”

    There might even be strong pushback from some employees or members of management, Emerson said, as people who are part of the company’s predominantly white and male majority may feel threatened as other groups are elevated to an equal level.

    “If inequality felt normal to you, then equality feels like discrimination,” she said.

    Once faced with unhappy workers who bristle at the changes, it will be even more important for Uber’s new leadership to hold fast to the recommendations and explain why the company is committed to these changes.

    “Clarity of vision and mission are very important. Clear, consistent leadership are key,” Emerson said, which means Uber may have to slow hiring in favor of casting wider nets to get better quality candidates.

    If Uber is committed to making changes, it could change its culture in 12 to 24 months, according to O’Reilly.

    “What you’re trying to drive out is behaviors that are associated with not being respectful and inclusive of others, and sort of being aggressive to the point where you cross ethical boundaries. You want to be very clear with people that that’s not going to tolerated in the future,” said O’Reilly.

    The company’s hiring of Harvard Business School’s Frances Frei will be integral to accomplishing these goals, O’Reilly noted.

    “Francis Frei, she understands this stuff. She’s written about companies that have very positive cultures. My guess would be is she’ll be very sophisticated. The real question for me is, what’ll they do with Kalanick?”

    O’Reilly and Emerson strongly believe that Kalanick can change and, ultimately, that the future of the company will rest on how he adapts and if he’s still seen as a leader internally. He’s still a founder, will remain on the board and retains voting control.

    “His perspective is really going to matter,” Emerson said.

    Perhaps the outlook of Uber’s impending metamorphosis looks a little better now that Kalanick has stepped down as CEO. But what’s certain is that Uber still has a hard road ahead: the company is still grappling with labor disputes from drivers, its ongoing self-driving car lawsuit with Google, driver assault victims, and criminal investigations pertaining to its evasion of law enforcement. The company is also being sued by an Indian rape victim for the mishandling of her medical records by Uber executives.

    It’ll be some time before we know for sure whether Uber’s changes are here to stay, and consumers can feel better about hailing a ride with the app. But here’s to hoping the company can take turn its controversies into triumphs.

    As Emerson said: “You want to see any company that affects our society do well.”


    What’s next for Uber? was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

  5. A brief field guide to all the lawyers hired to defend Donald Trump and his administration
    The many, many (many) lawyers who are paid to defend all the president’s men. CREDIT: AP Images. GIF by Adam Peck

    For a man who is so insistent he has done nothing wrong, President Donald Trump sure does keep a lot of lawyers close at hand.

    Since taking office five months ago, Trump has brought aboard a small army of private litigators and tasked them with defending him and his administration from mounting accusations of legal misconduct. In recent weeks, several of his top lieutenants—including his son-in-law, his vice president, his attorney general, and his former NSA director—have also hired their own outside counsel. And that’s on top of the White House’s own team of government lawyers who are charged with defending the administration’s unconstitutional executive orders.

    Presidents and other administration officials hiring personal lawyers isn’t without precedent. President Bill Clinton retained a personal lawyer during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and Nixon Vice President Spiro Agnew hired George White as his personal attorney while he was being investigated on charges of bribery, extortion, and tax fraud. But no president in recent history has kept so many personal lawyers on his payroll at the same time.

    So prolific are the Trump White House’s legal troubles that even some of Trump’s lawyers are now hiring lawyers. With fresh allegations surfacing on an almost daily basis, we thought it’d be helpful to put together a field guide to the seemingly endless parade of white dudes with law degrees making appearances on cable television.

    Marc Kasowitz

    Like many of Trump’s personal lawyers, Kasowitz has been in the Trump orbit for years defending his many business failures, including his ill-fated venture into Atlantic City and his Trump University scam. Kasowitz was brought aboard shortly after Robert Mueller was hired as special counsel leading the ongoing Russia investigation.

    Even though he only represents Donald Trump, Kasowitz has reportedly taken on an outsized role inside the White House. According to the New York Times—which Kasowitz has twice threatened to sue on Trump’s behalf—he advises administration officials on how best to talk about the Russia investigation and offers legal advice to various White House staff, two jobs normally filled by the White House Counsel’s office. Kasowitz himself has bragged about his role in former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s firing. Outside experts have characterized Kasowitz’s involvement as highly unusual, and at least two prominent lawyers rejected job offers to join the White House because of Kasowitz’s prominent role there.

    Kasowitz is not completely without qualifications, though. His online bio serves up glowing quotes from clients and fellow lawyers. And when it comes to the ongoing investigation into potential connections between Trump associates and Russian operatives, Kasowitz is intimately familiar with the subject at hand: two of his clients are OJSC Sberbank, the largest state-owned bank in Russia, and Oleg Deripaska, a Russian tycoon with close ties to Vladimir Putin.

    Fun Fact! For all his accomplishments, Kasowitz has yet to master fifth grade spelling.

    Michael Cohen

    Another one of Trump’s longtime personal lawyers, Cohen found himself in hot water after his name appeared in an unverified dossier written by former British intelligence official Christopher Steele. The dossier alleges that Cohen served as a go-between for the Trump campaign and Russian officials, and that he met with Russian contacts in Prague before the election — allegations that Cohen and the White House have vigorously denied.

    Cohen has been tied to the administration’s dealings with Russia in other ways, too. Shortly before NSA head Michael Flynn was fired for lying about his communications with a Russian envoy, Cohen —who has no foreign policy experience or expertise—delivered a memo to Flynn outlining a possible “peace plan” between Russia and Ukraine that, crucially, would also give the administration justification for lifting sanctions on Russia.

    Cohen’s dealings landed him on the short list of Trump campaign officials being targeted by congressional investigations. ABC News reported last month that Cohen initially refused to cooperate with the investigation, but has since said he would comply if subpoenaed, which he was earlier this month. On Friday NBC’s Katy Tur reported that Cohen has hired a lawyer of his own, former U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Ryan.

    Fun fact! In addition to their shared fondness for the Motherland, Cohen and Trump are both grossly obsessed with their own daughters’ attractiveness.

    Jay Sekulow

    One of Trump’s newest legal hires made his debut on last week’s Sunday talk shows to deliver a full-throated defense of the president after reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the president for obstruction of justice related to his firing of FBI Director James Comey. It did not go well.

    In appearances on all four Sunday morning programs, Sekulow denied the president was under investigation, confirmed the president was under investigation, suggested the investigation was a witch hunt, insisted the president wasn’t afraid of the investigation, reiterated the president wasn’t under investigation, and admitted the president might not know whether or not he was the subject of an investigation. He left all four hosts—and millions of viewers at home—bewildered.

    Trump’s affinity for Sekulow makes sense, though. As ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser notes, he’s basically the Donald Trump of lawyers.

    The very shady way that Donald Trump’s new lawyer got very, very rich

    Donald McGahn

    In most administrations, the toughest job in the White House belongs to the president. But in this administration, where the commander-in-chief is far more likely to be golfing or watching television than reading security briefings, the mantle of workhorse likely falls to Donald McGahn, chief White House counsel. McGahn and his staff are stuck with the unenviable task of defending the administration’s unconstitutional executive orders and illegal procurement of emoluments from multiple lawsuits, many brought by entire states.

    McGahn served as general counsel to the Trump campaign before joining the White House, and was a Republican appointee to the FEC before that. During the 2012 election, when Trump first mulled the idea of running for president, it was McGahn who put the kibosh on a possible FEC investigation into the improper use of Trump Organization money to finance campaign activity.

    Who is Donald McGahn, the fiery lawyer at the center of virtually every Trump controversy?

    McGahn was also a key player in the Michael Flynn saga. Then acting Attorney General Sally Yates reportedly first aired her concerns about Michael Flynn’s Russia dealings with McGahn, alerting the counsel’s office in two separate meetings that it might be unwise to have an NSA director who could be subjected to blackmail by a foreign government. Yates testified that McGahn’s response was basically “so what?”

    Fun Fact! McGahn was a lawyer for Tom DeLay in the early 2000s, defending him after he was indicted for illegally funneling money to a Texas PAC and accepting contributions from — you guessed it! — Russian oil tycoons.

    Robert Kelner

    Speaking of Flynn, nobody is of greater interest to investigators than the former NSA director. Flynn’s contact with Russian diplomats before Trump took office is indisputable, but the extent and scope of his conversations are unknown and of particular interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller and to the congressional investigation.

    In late March, Kelner told CNN that his client “certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit,” and reportedly offered his client’s cooperation in exchange for immunity.

    No such deal has been publicly disclosed, but at least one Democratic lawmaker thinks that Flynn is quietly cooperating with the special counsel’s office in their investigation.

    Fun fact! Unlike most lawyers currently in the Trump orbit, Kelner has no loyalities to the first family, and was a vocal #NeverTrump Republican during the campaign.

    Sheri Dillon

    Finally, a lawyer who has almost nothing to do with Russia*! It’s easy to forget that before the administration found itself neck deep in a Kremlin-sized political scandal, Donald Trump was—and still is—defending himself from accusations he and his family are profiting off of the White House.

    To combat those claims, he trotted out Sheri Dillon, a tax lawyer who had previous experience within the Trump empire. Before a throng of television cameras in January, days before the inauguration, Dillon proclaimed that Trump’s business dealings did not violate the constitution’s emoluments clause, and that Trump would be stepping down from all positions within his own company. As if to emphasize the point, she pointed to a huge stack of manilla envelopes on a table beside her. Those unlabled envelopes appeared to contain nothing but blank pieces of paper.

    “We believe this structure will serve to accomplish the president-elect’s desire to be isolated from his business and give the American people confidence that his sole interest is in making America great again,” she said at the time. No word on who “we” refers to, because virtually everyone pointed out that, whether or not Trump’s name was listed next to “CEO,” his personal fortune was still directly tied to his businesses.

    *Fun Fact! Sheri Dillon and her law firm were named “Russia Law Firm of the Year” in 2016. I did say almost nothing.

    Jamie Gorelick

    Besides Michael Flynn, perhaps nobody is of greater consequence to the Russia investigation than Trump son-in-law/senior adviser/resident mute Jared Kushner. The real estate tycoon’s fingerprints are all over some of the White House’s biggest decisions, including the firing of James Comey.

    As of now, Kushner is the only current official within the Trump administration who is being actively investigated in the Russia probe. To help navigate those waters, Kushner retained the services of Jamie Gorelick, a well-respected D.C. lawyer who also represents Ivanka Trump. Gorelick’s involvement surprised and angered many who know her as a strong champion of liberal causes, but she has a long record of defending clients with whom she disagrees politically, dating back to Richard Nixon.

    Kushner is reportedly reconsidering his legal team, though not because of Gorelick’s political leanings. According to the New York Times, Gorelick is not known as a criminal trial lawyer, and given Kushner’s role in the Russia scandal, a criminal trial lawyer might be necessary. Abbe Lowell, one of D.C.’s best, is said to be among those approached by Kushner’s team.

    Fun Fact! Gorelick has strong ties to the Clinton family, having served as Deputy Attorney General under Bill Clinton during his first term.

    Richard Cullen

    Kushner isn’t the only one seeking out a criminal defense attorney. Vice President Mike Pence joined the parade of administration officials with their own outside counsel last week, announcing that he hired former U.S. Attorney Richard Cullen.

    Ironically, despite his prominent role within the administration, Pence’s involvement with the Russia probe is likely more limited than most thanks to the late hour at which he joined the campaign. Paul Manafort, another central figure in the investigation, was instrumental in recruiting Pence to the ticket, but there is no indication that Pence himself is a focus of the special counsel’s office. Yet.

    Cullen has served several Republican lawmakers, including George W. Bush during the 2000 Florida recount and former Senator Paul Trible during the Iran-Contra affair.

    Fun Fact! Cullen and James Comey once worked together, and Cullen is the godfather for one of Comey’s daughters, according to the Washington Post.

    Chuck Cooper

    Technically speaking, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the most powerful lawyer in the country. So what does that make Chuck Cooper, the private lawyer hired by Sessions earlier this month?

    Cooper reportedly began advising Sessions in the run-up to his June 13 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Though Cooper did confirm he is representing Sessions, he wouldn’t say whether he was hired in relation to the ongoing Russia investigation. Sessions has been drawn into the scandal as well after it was revealed he met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least twice in 2016 and failed to disclose either encounter during his confirmation hearing. A possible third encounter was disclosed by former FBI Director Comey during a closed hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to CNN.

    Cooper and Sessions have known one another for decades, since they worked together in the Justice Department during the Reagan administration. Cooper also served as an adviser during Sessions’ confirmation hearing earlier this year.

    Fun Fact! Cooper was last seen in the national spotlight defending California’s homophobic Proposition 8 before the Supreme Court, while simultaneously planning his stepdaughter’s same-sex wedding.

    Graphics by Adam Peck


    A brief field guide to all the lawyers hired to defend Donald Trump and his administration was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.