Group Seeks Disbarment of a Trump-Aligned Lawyer for a Key Jan. 6 Witness

WASHINGTON — In appearing before the Jan. 6 committee last year, Cassidy Hutchinson, the former White House aide who recounted President Donald J. Trump’s conduct in the lead-up to the attacks on the Capitol, shared how her original lawyer had tried to influence her testimony.

While represented by that lawyer, Stefan Passantino, Ms. Hutchinson was less forthcoming to the committee. But after hiring a different lawyer, she provided more damaging details about Mr. Trump and said that Mr. Passantino had pressured her to remain loyal and protect the former president.

Now, several dozen prominent legal figures, including past presidents of the American Bar Association and the District of Columbia Bar, are seeking to revoke Mr. Passantino’s license to practice law. The move reflects intensifying scrutiny over whether Mr. Passantino, a former Trump White House ethics lawyer whose legal fees were covered by Mr. Trump’s political action committee, violated his own professional duty, along with a host of other ethical requirements, by putting the interests of a third party over that of his client.

In a 22-page complaint filed on Monday with D.C.’s Board on Professional Responsibility, prominent lawyers accused Mr. Passantino of the crimes of subornation of perjury, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and bribery. The latter referred in part to Ms. Hutchinson’s allegation that his advice to say little to the panel was accompanied by assurances that she would get a “really good job in ‘Trump world.’”

“The Office of Disciplinary Counsel should promptly initiate an investigation of Mr. Passantino’s conduct and, if the facts described above are confirmed, seek his disbarment,” said the complaint, filed by the group Lawyers Defending American Democracy.

Ross Garber, a lawyer representing Mr. Passantino, provided an eight-page response he shared last month after another group, The 65 Project, filed a narrower complaint in Georgia seeking an ethics investigation into Mr. Passantino.

The response portrayed that complaint as a smear and disparaged its significance because Ms. Hutchinson had not filed it — as was the case with the complaint on Monday — while pointing to parts of the transcripts that Mr. Garber said undermined various allegations against Mr. Passantino.

In closed-door depositions and testimony broadcast on television, Ms. Hutchinson, a former aide to Mr. Trump’s White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, told the Jan. 6 committee how the president had urged armed supporters to the Capitol and did not care about the potential for violence in the hours leading up to the riot.

But she also indicated that she had been far less forthcoming in earlier depositions because of Mr. Passantino’s advice.

How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

She said when Mr. Passantino announced he was her lawyer, he would not initially disclose who was paying him. He then sought to influence her testimony, she said, like by advising her to say she did not remember incidents even if she did remember some facts about them.

(In his statement, Mr. Garber highlighted that Ms. Hutchinson had also testified that Mr. Passantino “told me not to lie.” Mr. Passantino had facilitated hours of testimony that included “information unfavorable to former President Trump,” the statement said.)

In December, as the Jan. 6 committee was making public its report, Mr. Passantino took a leave of absence from his firm, denying wrongdoing and insisting that he had represented Ms. Hutchinson “honorably, ethically and fully consistent with her sole interests as she communicated them to me.”

Lawyers Defending American Democracy also filed its complaint with disciplinary authorities in two states where Mr. Passantino is admitted to the bar, New York and Georgia, it said in a statement.

He joins a long list of Trump lawyers who have faced ethical complaints, including John Eastman, Kenneth Chesebro and Rudolph W. Giuliani. But those complaints have typically stopped short of explicitly calling for disbarment.

Stephen Gillers, a specialist in legal ethics at New York University’s law school, said the allegations against Mr. Passantino put him in a different category.

“Unlike the other Trump lawyers, who crossed lines in what they did for their client, the complaint here alleges that Passantino betrayed Hutchinson by encouraging her to lie under oath and obstruct Congress,” Mr. Gillers said. “The work of other Trump lawyers harmed the nation. But it was visible and could be challenged. Passantino was allegedly prepared quietly to sacrifice Hutchinson to protect others.”


Related posts