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Trump is rushing to hire seasoned lawyers. But he keeps hearing ‘No.’

Trump’s search is being hampered by his divisiveness, as well as his reputation for stiffing vendors and ignoring advice.Chris Kleponis/Photographer: Chris Kleponis/Pol

Former president Donald Trump and close aides have spent the days since the FBI searched his Florida home rushing to assemble a team of respected defense lawyers. But the answer they keep hearing is ‘’No.’’

The struggle to find expert legal advice puts Trump in a bind as he faces potential criminal exposure from a records dispute with the National Archives that escalated into a federal investigation of possible violations of the Espionage Act and other statutes.

‘’Everyone is saying no,’’ said a prominent Republican lawyer who like some others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential conversations.

Trump is no stranger to legal proceedings, and his scramble to hire lawyers in the face of an ominous federal probe recalls his predicament in the summer of 2017, when he was under scrutiny from special counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia probe. Again, Trump is struggling to find a veteran criminal defense lawyer with a strong track record of dealing with the Justice Department in a sprawling, multi-pronged investigation.

Longtime confidants and advisers of Trump have grown worried about Trump’s current stable of lawyers, noting that most of them have little to no experience in cases of this type, according to two people familiar with the internal discussions.

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A Trump spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

‘’The Trump team needs a first-rate, highly experienced federal criminal practitioner,’’ said Jon Sale, a Florida defense attorney who worked on the Watergate prosecution team and said he turned down representing Trump last week because he did not have enough time to devote to the case. ‘’You have to evaluate whether you want to take it. It’s not like a DUI. It’s representing the former president of the United States — and maybe the next one — in what’s one of the highest-visibility cases ever.’’

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Ordinarily, the prestige and publicity of representing a former president, as well as the new and complex legal issues at stake in this case, would attract high-powered attorneys. But Trump’s search is being hampered by his divisiveness, as well as his reputation for stiffing vendors and ignoring advice.

‘’In olden days, he would tell firms representing him was a benefit because they could advertise off it. Today it’s not the same,’’ said Michael Cohen, a former lawyer for Trump who was convicted of tax evasion, making false statements, campaign finance violations, and lying to Congress in 2018. ‘’He’s also a very difficult client in that he’s always pushing the envelope, he rarely listens to sound legal advice and he wants you to do things that are not appropriate, ethically or legally.’’

One lawyer told a story from early in Trump’s presidency about members of his legal team urging him against tweeting about the Mueller probe, only to find he had tweeted about it before they got to the end of the West Wing driveway. Several people said that Trump was nearly impossible to represent and that it would be unclear whether they would ever get paid.

People familiar with the search for legal help said the effort includes Susie Wiles, a close adviser to Trump, and attorney Christina Bobb, who was present at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property during the search and signed for the list of documents taken. Former campaign adviser Boris Epshteyn is taking a prominent role, and former White House aide Kash Patel is advising informally. Patel is raising money for a ‘’legal offense’' fund by selling merchandise such as tank tops and beanies emblazoned with the logo ‘’K$H.’’

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‘’You get these guys who just live to be around him, and mistakes get made,’’ said a lawyer who isn’t part of the team. ‘’These guys just want to make him happy.’’

Bobb was previously a host on the far-right, pro-Trump television network One America News. At OAN, Bobb covered the Arizona Republican Party’s review of 2020 ballots — which ultimately confirmed Joe Biden’s win in the state — while also raising money for the effort and conferring with Trump advisers, The Washington Post has reported.

Bobb’s prior legal experience at the federal level consists mainly of a handful of trademark infringement cases on behalf of CrossFit during a stint at a San Diego law firm. She did not respond to requests for comment.

Trump’s other lawyer currently based in Florida is Lindsey Halligan, whose practice, according to a professional biography, focuses on insurance claims at residential and commercial properties. She was admitted to the Florida bar in 2014. A search of federal court records found no filings under her name. She did not respond to requests for comment.

Trump is also being represented in the records dispute by Alina Habba, who leads a three-attorney firm with an office near Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J. Her professional experience includes serving as general counsel to a parking-garage company. Last year, Habba started representing Trump in several cases, including defending him from a defamation claim by the writer E. Jean Carroll, who accused him of a decades-old sexual assault; suing the New York Times and Trump’s niece Mary Trump; and suing 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee and other perceived enemies, alleging a conspiracy to harm Donald Trump through the Russia scandal. Habba did not respond to requests for comment.

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Others on the team have relatively more experience with federal criminal probes. James Trusty formerly served in the Justice Department’s criminal division and headed the organized-crime and gang section. He has recently represented clients accused of financial fraud, defrauding the Agriculture Department and trading in counterfeit military uniforms. He referred questions to Trump’s spokesman.

Evan Corcoran is a former federal prosecutor viewed by Trump aides as a serious and experienced attorney.