Trump lawyer who quit classified documents case withdraws from $475 million CNN defamation suit

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James Trusty, attorney for Donald Trump, appears at “Meet the Press” on April 9, 2023 in Washington, DC.

NBCUniversal | Getty Images

a lawyer who leave the team defending Donald Trump in criminal classified documents case said on Friday that he would no longer represent the former president in a separate defamation lawsuit against CNN.

The lawyer, Jim Trusty, said in a court filing that his request to withdraw from the $475 million civil suit is “based on irreconcilable differences” with Trump.

“Counsel can no longer effectively and properly represent Plaintiffs,” the trustee wrote in a filing in US District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Neither the trustees nor CNN’s attorneys immediately responded to requests for comment on the trustee’s move to withdraw as Trump’s attorney.

Lindsey Halligan, Trump’s remaining counsel in the defamation case, referred CNBC to Steven Cheung, the former president’s spokesman, who said the defamation trial is “entering a new phase as more irrefutable facts emerge.”

“We thank Mr. Trustee for his work in this matter and wish him the best of luck,” Cheung said.

A week earlier, the trustees and another attorney, John Rowley, tendered their resignations as Trump’s counsel in the federal criminal case that resulted in his indictment on charges related to the latter’s efforts to steal his resort home. A fleet of classified documents can be kept in Mar-a-Lago.

The trustees and Rowley said in that statement, “Now that the case has been filed in Miami, it is a logical moment for us to step aside and let others complete the cases.”

Four days later, Trump pleaded not guilty to 37 counts, including conspiracy to tamper with national defense records, conceal documents and obstruction of justice.

The attorneys’ statement also said they would not defend Trump in another ongoing federal criminal investigation on January 6, 2021, into the events surrounding the Capitol riot. Jack Smith, a special counsel for the US Department of Justice, oversaw both investigations.

They bear little resemblance to Trump’s civil defamation suit against CNN, which was filed in October.

Trump, who has a long track record of attacking media outlets and specific journalists disparaging the coverage, accused CNN of running a “smear campaign” against him, comparing him to Adolf Hitler.

Prosecuted by CNN over repeated invocation of the Big Lie, a term used to refer to various false claims of election fraud, Trump and his allies have claimed the presidency Joe BidenThe 2020 election victory was rigged.

“‘The Big Lie’ is a direct reference to tactics employed by Adolf Hitler and appearing in Hitler’s Mein Kampf,” insisted the complaint from Trump’s legal team, which at the time included trustees.

CNN asked the court in November to dismiss the case, calling Trump’s claims “untenable and counterproductive to a free press and open political debate”.

The outlet noted that Trump’s lawsuit rests on just five CNN pieces. It argued that none of them suggest that he has “Hitler’s character.”

Trump’s complaint suggested that CNN was discrediting him in order to undermine his potential candidacy in the next presidential election. Trump launched his 2024 campaign the following month, and he continued to lead the Republican primary field in the polls.

Trump is seeking $475 million in punitive damages and more than $75,000 in compensatory damages.