Trump Shakes Up His Georgia Legal Team Ahead of Atlanta Booking


Just before his visit to an Atlanta jail to be booked on 13 felony counts, Donald J. Trump has shaken up his Georgia legal defense team, adding Steve Sadow, a veteran criminal defense lawyer who has taken on a number of high-profile cases.

Mr. Trump’s decision comes soon after one of his lawyers, Drew Findling, and his two other lawyers in the Georgia case, Jennifer Little and Marissa Goldberg, negotiated a $200,000 bond for Mr. Trump, who is one of 19 defendants in a sweeping racketeering indictment charging them with engaging in a “criminal enterprise” that sought to overturn Mr. Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia.

Mr. Findling is expected to be let go, according to a person familiar with the matter, while Ms. Little will be retained.

Mr. Sadow said in a statement that Mr. Trump “should never have been indicted, adding, “He is innocent of all the charges brought against him.”

He added that “prosecutions intended to advance or serve the ambitions and careers of political opponents of the president have no place in our justice system.”

The shake-up was first reported by ABC News.

On Thursday, Mr. Trump is expected to surrender at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, where he is likely to be fingerprinted and photographed, the protocol for all criminal defendants in the county. Supporters of Mr. Trump began arriving early in the morning to demonstrate in front of the jail; by 9:30 a.m., dozens of people were there, carrying signs and shouting slogans.

Rick Hearn, 44, an Atlanta accountant, displayed a poster with an image of Mr. Trump next to one of Nelson Mandela, with the title “political prisoners.”

“I feel like I needed to be a part of this,” Mr. Hearn said, adding that “those in charge” need to know that they could not “take away our rights and get away with it.”

The Georgia indictment, released last week, is the fourth criminal case against Mr. Trump to be filed this year. It targets not just Mr. Trump, but also an array of his allies who are accused of engaging in election interference after the November 2020 vote. The defendants include both little-known supporters of Mr. Trump and high-profile political players like Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer, and Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s former White House chief of staff.

As of Thursday morning, nearly half of the 19 defendants had been booked at the jail, and a cascade of legal maneuvering was underway. Three defendants are seeking to remove their cases to federal court: Mr. Meadows; Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official; and David Shafer, a former head of the Georgia Republican Party.

Another defendant, Kenneth Chesebro, filed a speedy-trial demand on Wednesday. Under that scenario, which Georgia law allows, the trial for all 19 people indicted in the case would have to start no later than Nov. 3 — months earlier than prosecutors had sought.

Given all the pretrial wrangling that must be resolved, the ultimate timing of a trial or trials remains up in the air.

The office of the Fulton County district attorney, Fani T. Willis, is prosecuting the case. Her office has requested that arraignments take place in the week of Sept. 5. Defendants have the right to waive appearing at an arraignment, where defendants answer the charges against them.

Abruptly reconfiguring his legal team is more of a feature than a bug for Mr. Trump. He has cycled through scores of lawyers over his decades in the New York real estate world and in his more recent political career. In some instances, he has been known to refuse to pay lawyers for their work, although those who are working for him in connection with the four criminal cases that he now faces are being paid.

Mr. Trump has not paid them with his personal funds, but using donations his supporters made in the wake of the 2020 election, after he said that he needed help to pursue claims of widespread voting fraud — claims that were widely debunked.

Recently, a number of lawyers working on Mr. Trump’s behalf have faced their own legal troubles, particularly in connection with the indictment in Georgia.

Mr. Sadow, who keeps a modest office on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta, is considered by many people in the city’s legal community to be among its most talented criminal defense lawyers. Perhaps unsurprisingly in a city that is the putative hip-hop capital of the world, Mr. Sadow, like Mr. Findling, has represented rap clients, including T.I., Rick Ross and Gunna, as well as the singer Usher.

Mr. Sadow has been involved in another high profile racketeering case. In December, Gunna, whose real name is Sergio Kitchens, pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge in the sprawling Fulton County gang case against Young Slime Life, or YSL, an Atlanta hip-hop collective founded by the superstar rapper Jeffery Williams, who performs as Young Thug. As part of his plea, Mr. Kitchens, who was represented by Mr. Sadow, admitted that YSL is also a criminal street gang, according to a spokesman for the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office.

Mr. Kitchens, as part of the agreement, entered what is known as an Alford plea, which allows defendants to maintain their innocence while pleading guilty. He was sentenced to five years in prison, but was released after one year of the sentence was commuted to time served and the rest was suspended.

Other high-profile clients of Mr. Sadow have included Howard K. Stern, the boyfriend of Anna Nicole Smith, who was accused of taking part in a conspiracy to provide her with prescription drugs before her death; Mr. Stern’s conviction in the case was ultimately overturned.

More than two decades ago, Mr. Sadow was a fixture in news reports about a scandal involving an Atlanta strip club called the Gold Club, which, according to federal prosecutors, had ties to the Gambino crime family of New York and was a den of prostitution and grift.

Mr. Sadow represented the club’s owner, Steven E. Kaplan, in that case. In a deal with prosecutors, Mr. Kaplan pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering and agreed to forfeit $5 million to the government and spend three to five years in prison. The case sputtered out as other defendants pleaded guilty to lesser charges; Mr. Sadow, at the time, called the plea agreement “a very good deal for all concerned.”

When Mr. Trump chose Mr. Findling last summer to head his Georgia legal defense team, it made some sense, given Mr. Trump’s experience in the world of pop culture and his affinity for oversized personalities. Mr. Findling, who is often photographed wearing stylish sunglasses, refers to himself as the #BillionDollarLawyer on Instagram, and has represented rappers including Cardi B, Gucci Mane and Migos.

He has a reputation as a skilled lawyer who has taken on cases ranging from high-profile murders to local political corruption scandals.

Before he was hired, Mr. Findling had sharply criticized Mr. Trump numerous times on social media. In 2018, he referred to Mr. Trump as “the racist architect of fraudulent Trump University.”

But once he was hired, Mr. Findling delivered a vigorous defense of Mr. Trump. Before the former president’s indictment last week, Mr. Findling and his team filed a number of motions seeking to throw out evidence collected by a special grand jury, and to have Ms. Willis taken off the case.

His strategy was seen by many legal observers as aggressive but worth attempting, though it wore on the patience of the presiding judge and ultimately proved futile. Courts ruled that Mr. Trump lacked legal standing to bring such challenges because he had not yet been charged at that time.

Like Mr. Findling, Mr. Sadow has publicly expressed misgivings about Mr. Trump. On the way to taking a swipe at the former F.B.I. director James Comey in one 2017 exchange on Twitter, Mr. Sadow made a point of noting that he was “not a DT supporter.”

Sean Keenan and Christian Boone contributed reporting.

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