Every once in a while, amid the legal and ethical sham of the Trump presidency, the grown-ups do show up to assert themselves. And each time they do, the world briefly makes sense again. This week, the grown-up is H. Scott Wallace, co-chairman of the Wallace Global Fund, which promotes sustainable investments and until very recently, received legal counsel from the same firm that helped Donald Trump “separate” from his business interests before assuming the presidency. In a letter explaining his decision to fire that law firm, Morgan Lewis & Bockius, Wallace leaves no doubt that the “the ethical carnage” sanctioned by the firm’s lawyers is not tolerable, or normal, or even minimally defensible.
The letter—addressed to the firm’s chairwoman Jami McKeon and first reported by Politico—expressly calls out the firm’s representation of Donald Trump and the legal advice given by Morgan Lewis partner Sheri Dillon.* Dillon is the lawyer who stood next to piles of presumably empty manila folders and the president at a Jan. 11 press conference to defend Trump’s decision not to place his business in a blind trust but instead to set up a trust managed by his sons, of which he still maintains full ownership, allowing him to profit from his presidency.
Wallace, who appeals to McKeon as “a fellow Villanova Law grad,” does not mince his words:
We believe that the legal advice given to him by your partner is not just simplistic and ill-founded, but that it empowers and even encourages impeachable offenses and undetectable financial conflicts of interest by America’s highest official, and thus is an unprecedented invitation to corruption and assault on our democracy.
It goes on to ask that the firm “think about larger principles than simple zealous representation of a client.”
The letter then catalogs in detail the myriad ways in which Trump’s continuing conflicts of interest and self-dealing violate the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause and characterizes Dillon’s solution as “an illusion of protection against the President using his office for personal gain.” It goes on to detail corruption-related developments since that January press conference, ranging from the granting of 38 trademarks to Trump by China, his D.C. hotels courting foreign business away from other venues, and the doubling of initiation fees at Mar-a-Lago.
The Wallace Fund describes itself as a “funder and supporter of social movements.” In his letter, Wallace says that the fund’s “values of open and accountable democratic governance” have been violated by the “sham” “figleaf” arrangement Morgan Lewis has devised and endorsed. As Wallace concludes, “it is painfully obvious that Trump is using his office for financial gain. And Morgan Lewis is enabling and legitimizing this.”
Sometimes just calling corruption “corruption” is enough to refocus the mind. This simple letter reminds us how dramatically our conception of what is normal has been redefined in recent months.
*Correction, April 3, 2017: This post originally misspelled Sheri Dillon’s first name.