WASHINGTON — Even by the flexible standards of Washington’s hired legal guns, Abbe Lowell’s most recent move was striking. After representing Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and developing close ties inside the Trump White House, Mr. Lowell, one of the capital’s best-known scandal lawyers, is now representing a favorite target of former President Donald J. Trump: Hunter Biden.
Mr. Lowell’s new role in helping steer Mr. Biden through Republican congressional investigations has stirred unease and dissent in the Biden camp, where some questioned his recent work for the Trump family and worried that his aggressive tactics could backfire.
It has also brought new attention to legal and ethics issues raised by the Justice Department and a client about Mr. Lowell in recent years. And his re-emergence in Democratic circles after a turn in Mr. Trump’s orbit highlights how Washington’s scandal-industrial complex can blur the lines between legal representation, access to power and self-promotion.
It is not unusual for top-tier Washington lawyers to represent clients on both sides of the aisle in high-profile Justice Department and congressional investigations, and Mr. Lowell has represented a long roster of prominent Democrats and Republicans. But Mr. Lowell’s proximity to the Oval Office of two successive — and irreconcilably hostile — White Houses from differing parties stands out.
During the time when he represented Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump — he no longer does so — Mr. Lowell, who had long ties to Democrats, boasted about his connections to the Trump White House, according to three people familiar with his claims.
His Trump ties have not bothered some Democrats, who have cheered Mr. Lowell’s bare-knuckle tactics on behalf of Hunter Biden, the president’s son. The aggressive posture comes amid mounting scrutiny from congressional Republicans and a long-running Justice Department investigation into Mr. Biden’s taxes and a gun purchase.
This month, Mr. Lowell rejected a Republican congressional request for information from Hunter Biden. In his response, he called the request “more than ironic, perhaps hypocritical” because Republicans had opposed Democratic requests for records “from President Trump and his family, some of whom held official government positions” — an apparent reference to Mr. Lowell’s former clients, Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump. (They have been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in the investigation into Mr. Trump’s efforts to cling to power.)
Mr. Lowell also requested investigations by state and federal law enforcement and the Internal Revenue Service into Trump allies who helped disseminate information from a cache of files belonging to Mr. Biden. And he sent letters to those Trump allies and others, asking them to preserve records in preparation for possible litigation.
“The new posture is exactly what’s required in an environment where the Republican investigators are relentless,” said David Brock, the former self-described right-wing hit man turned Democratic operative.
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Mr. Brock began working with Mr. Biden’s advisers this year to push back against Republican attacks, and recommended that they hire Mr. Lowell.
“You need to respond in kind, and Abbe is the perfect man for the job,” Mr. Brock said.
Asked about Mr. Lowell’s hiring and his tactics, Ian Sams, a White House spokesman, said in a statement that the Republican inquiries into the Biden family were “politically motivated partisan attacks” that “deserve to be called out.”
Mr. Lowell joined Hunter Biden’s legal team after coming under scrutiny linked to his representation of other clients during the Trump administration. The Justice Department examined his involvement in a possible “bribery-for-pardon scheme,” as well as potential foreign lobbying violations, according to documents and interviews.
Mr. Lowell was not charged with any wrongdoing, and the Justice Department has indicated in court filings that it dropped its inquiries into both of those matters.
Asked to comment on the information in this article, Mr. Lowell said, “Beyond statements in court filings and the findings of two judges, ethics rules prevent me from answering questions about former or current clients.”
As to whether he had bragged of connections to the Trump White House, he said, “Given my longstanding practice of never asking one client for something for another client, anyone saying that I raised any connection I had with the Trump White House is just making it up.”
Mr. Lowell has not been welcomed by everyone on Hunter Biden’s team.
Chris Clark, the lead criminal defense lawyer representing Mr. Biden in the Justice Department investigation, has kept Mr. Lowell at a distance in dealing with that matter.
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And Mr. Lowell’s addition led to the exit of another lawyer — Joshua A. Levy — who specializes in helping clients facing congressional inquiries.
President Biden’s personal lawyer, Bob Bauer, had recommended Mr. Levy for the job. But Mr. Levy had clashed with Kevin Morris, a lawyer and close adviser to Hunter Biden who has lent him money to pay his back taxes and some other bills, according to a person familiar with the strategy. Mr. Morris and Hunter Biden brought on Mr. Lowell late last year, prompting Mr. Levy’s departure.
Mr. Clark, Mr. Levy and a spokeswoman for Mr. Bauer declined to comment.
Mr. Lowell, 70, grew up in the Bronx, and soon after graduating from Columbia Law School went to work for President Jimmy Carter’s Justice Department in Washington.
His profile soared when he served as the House Democrats’ chief investigative counsel defending against the impeachment of Bill Clinton. In the years that followed, he developed a niche successfully representing embattled politicians, including prominent Democrats such as Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey and John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator and vice-presidential candidate.
While he had also represented some Republicans over the years, it still shocked Washington insiders when he signed on to represent Mr. Kushner and his wife, Ms. Trump, in the Russia investigation months into the Trump administration.
“It caused a firestorm inside the White House when Jared and Ivanka hired Abbe Lowell, but it was smart, because you couldn’t get a guy who was more dialed into that D.C.-D.O.J. revolving door and the Democratic establishment,” said Stephen K. Bannon, the former adviser to Mr. Trump.
Mr. Bannon described Mr. Lowell as among a group of well-connected lawyers who “are on every side of everything.”
In representing Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump, Mr. Lowell was in frequent discussions with Mr. Trump’s legal team, and two people who worked with the team recalled Mr. Lowell taking part in at least one meeting with Mr. Trump related to the Russia investigation. Some of Mr. Trump’s lawyers at the time thought that Mr. Lowell was angling to take over as the head of the president’s legal team, something people close to him denied.
During the Trump administration, Mr. Lowell worked with other backers of Mr. Trump, including Elliott Broidy, a top Trump fund-raiser. Mr. Lowell also began representing one of Mr. Broidy’s business associates who was under investigation for work she did with Mr. Broidy that violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires people to disclose to the Justice Department when they lobby or assist with public relations for certain foreign clients.
His representation of Mr. Broidy’s business associate, Nickie Lum Davis, became entangled in Justice Department scrutiny of Mr. Lowell, himself, related to his work on tangentially related matters, leading to a series of accusations from Ms. Davis.
In the fall of 2020, Mr. Broidy pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws. After Mr. Broidy’s plea, Ms. Davis, who two months earlier had entered into a plea deal with the Justice Department that had been negotiated by Mr. Lowell, asked Mr. Lowell for help pursuing a pardon.
“I told her I could not do so because I was advising a person in the administration who was involved in the executive clemency process,” Mr. Lowell recounted in an affidavit, referring to Mr. Kushner, who played a leading role in recommending pardons and commutations to Mr. Trump. “Ms. Davis expressed extreme disappointment and displeasure in my declining to help in that matter.”
Weeks after Mr. Broidy’s guilty plea, The New York Times reported that Mr. Broidy and Mr. Lowell had been scrutinized by the Justice Department over their involvement in what court filings described as a bribery-for-pardon scheme that took place in 2017 in which a client would make “a substantial political contribution” to an unspecified recipient in exchange for a pardon from Mr. Trump for a tax crimes conviction.
Ms. Davis was shocked and angered, concluding that Mr. Lowell had lied to her about not helping to pursue pardons, a friend of hers said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
A lawyer for Mr. Lowell told The Times in 2020 that Mr. Lowell’s work on the matter that the Justice Department scrutinized as a potential bribery scheme ended before he started representing Mr. Kushner.
The Justice Department said in court filings that it notified Mr. Lowell in 2020 “of his potential criminal exposure” in the bribery inquiry. But it determined later that “the evidence was insufficient to warrant a separate grand jury investigation.”
Mr. Trump pardoned Mr. Broidy in the final hours of his presidency, but not Ms. Davis.
Ms. Davis fired Mr. Lowell in April 2021 after paying him more than $1 million, according to her friend. In an affidavit, Ms. Davis accused Mr. Lowell of “egregious errors” and “blatantly unethical conduct,” assertions that he sought to rebut in affidavits of his own.
A judge rejected Ms. Davis’s effort to withdraw her guilty plea as coerced, and sentenced her last month to two years in prison. During a sentencing hearing, the judge chided her for having “tried to disavow any responsibility and tried to blame your change of plea on your former counsel in a misguided attempt to rewrite history.”
Mr. Lowell had also come under scrutiny in 2020 from the Justice Department for possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
The chief of the Justice Department FARA unit wrote to Mr. Lowell in April 2020 “seeking information to help us determine whether you have an obligation to register” under the act because of his work for “foreign principals.”
The names of the foreign clients were redacted in the version of the letter included in court filings, but interviews and documents show that Mr. Lowell represented two men who Ms. Davis knew — Ng Lap Seng, a Macau real estate and casino mogul who was sentenced to four years in prison in 2018 for bribing two United Nations diplomats; and Qin Fei, a Chinese businessman who prosecutors reportedly believed may have been a Chinese intelligence agent and the architect of the bribery scheme.
In a court filing, Mr. Lowell said he “provided the FARA Unit with answers to the questions,” and in 2021, the Justice Department “determined that it had insufficient information to determine whether Lowell had an obligation to register under FARA,” prosecutors wrote in a filing.