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

Cassidy Hutchinson, the former White House aide who recounted President Donald Trump’s conduct in the lead-up to the Capitol attack, during a hearing of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 28, 2022. (Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — In appearing before the Jan. 6 committee last year, Cassidy Hutchinson, the former White House aide who recounted President Donald 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, Hutchinson was less forthcoming to the committee. But after hiring a different lawyer, she provided more damaging details about Trump and said that 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 Passantino’s license to practice law. The move reflects intensifying scrutiny over whether Passantino, a former Trump White House ethics lawyer whose legal fees were covered by 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.

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In a 22-page complaint filed Monday with DC’s Board on Professional Responsibility, prominent lawyers accused Passantino of the crimes of subornation of perjury, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and bribery. The latter referred in part to 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 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 Passantino.

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

In closed-door depositions and testimony broadcast on television, Hutchinson, a former aide to 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 on Jan. 6, 2021.

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

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

In December, as the Jan. 6 committee was making public its report, Passantino took a leave of absence from his firm, denying wrongdoing and insisting that he had represented 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 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 Rudy 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 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,” 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.”

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