News & Politics

Trump's New Legal Attack Dog Is a Longtime GOP Hitman and Conspiracy-Monger

Joe diGenova goes back to the Lewinsky scandal and has been spreading Clinton-FBI conspiracy theories since 2016.

Joseph diGenova
Photo Credit: Screenshot / YouTube

Twenty years ago last month, Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz, then of the Washington Post, published a flattering profile called "The Power Couple at Scandal's Vortex" about a couple of D.C. lawyers who suddenly seemed to be everywhere, making the case against Bill Clinton. The two former prosecutors and conservative activists were named Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, and they were not only ubiquitous on television, they had their hands in every scandal and investigation in Washington, making them, as Kurtz put it, "players, which gives them access to juicy information, which gets them on television, which generates legal business."

Then, as now, there were dozens of lawyers on cable news acting as pundits or analysts and arguing over the details of the latest scandal news. But diGenova and Toensing were unique in that they weren't just giving opinions, they were often representing clients and even worked on retainer for one of the House investigations. From time to time they became personally involved in the scandal themselves, as when Toensing claimed she had been contacted by a Secret Service agent with a story to tell about Clinton and Monica Lewinsky or when diGenova went on TV and insisted that the White House was "digging up dirt" on him and his wife. These cross-connections between media, clients and various investigations gave the two of them information they used to promote their legal business and advance their cause, which was to help Republicans take down Bill Clinton by any means necessary. They are both savvy television performers and ruthless political operatives.

I hadn't heard much about them in the ensuing 20 years, beyond some tepid defenses of convicted former Bush official Scooter Libby, but it stands to reason they would be back in business now that Washington is engulfed in scandal again. And it makes perfect sense that Donald Trump would hire a lawyer with a conspiratorial bent and a strong media presence to defend him when he decided to go to the mat against the Mueller investigation.

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Toensing has been all over this scandal from the beginning, representing former Trump adviser Sam Clovis, former Trump legal spokesman Mark Corallo and a shadowy alleged whistleblower and former FBI informant named William Campbell, who claimed he had information that Hillary Clinton had sold uranium to Russia as secretary of state in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation. The Uranium One story played big on Fox News for a while but it didn't catch on since Campbell didn't have any proof and the FBI said he had been an unreliable informant.

Of course, all that could have been part of the Big FBI Conspiracy diGenova has been pushing for several months now, which seems to have gained momentum in the Fox News universe. Before the 2016 election, diGenova went on Laura Ingraham's radio show and claimed that James Comey "threw" the case against Hillary Clinton:

Comey’s a dirty cop. And if there’s one thing a prosecutor hates worse than a criminal, it’s a dirty cop . . . He threw this case. He did it for political reasons. He lied publicly about the quality of the case. He lied publicly about the law. He lied publicly about the ability to get documents when he could have used the grand jury and he didn’t.

This was a huge deal in the right-wing fever swamps during the last stages of the election campaign. DiGenova undoubtedly knew the Clinton scandal machine was oiled up and was just testing the gears in anticipation of four years of steady work. Long before Comey and Trump had their confrontation in the Oval Office, the right was readying its attack on Comey and the FBI. Here's diGenova laying out his Bizarro World case that Comey had "destroyed his credibility" and "done horrific damage to the FBI":

If this were a Republican, the press would be going crazy about obstruction of injustice . . . [Clinton] will preside over the most corrupt administration since the Teapot Dome scandal. This is about the future of the country.

DiGenova promised legal representation to any FBI agent who wanted to come forward and testify against Comey. As far as we know there were no takers.

All that was before the election. Since then the conspiracy, out of necessity, has gotten more sensational and convoluted. He now claims that "a group of FBI and DOJ people were trying to frame Donald Trump of a falsely created crime . . . they were going to exonerate Hillary and they were going to frame Donald Trump."

So the original sin in all this was letting Crooked Hillary off the hook for her heinous email crimes. Then, apparently, the leaders of the global intelligence community joined with the nefarious Hillary lovers at the FBI to wreak their vengeance on the man who took down their chosen leader. As diGenova puts it, "Comey sold his soul to the devil."

According to reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post, diGenova's role in Team Trump will be to do what he does best: appear on television and give colorful quotes to the press. But he is also a former prosecutor with right-wing contacts throughout the government. Toensing, his wife and legal partner, has access to information about the investigation as the attorney for Clovis and Corallo. He will be a valuable addition to the team as they pursue an ongoing smear campaign against their own government.

According to press reports this week, Robert Mueller's investigators are particularly interested in Trump's behavior around the firings of Comey and Michael Flynn, which suggests Mueller is looking at obstruction of justice by the president in the White House. If diGenova is telling his new client that the president can't be indicted while in office, he's undoubtedly glad that Trump doesn't use a computer. If he did, he might come across diGenova's headline-grabbing legal opinion on the matter from 20 years ago:

Nobody should underestimate the upheaval that a prosecution of the president would cause. But we went through it once before, in Watergate, and survived. The nation, in fact, could conceivably benefit from the indictment of a president. It would teach the valuable civics lesson that no one is above the law. As an appeals court told Mr. Clinton in the Paula Jones case, the Founders created a presidency, not a monarchy.

Say this for the guy: When he's right, he's right.

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.