Trump Shakes Up His Georgia Legal Team Ahead of Atlanta Booking (2023)



Mr. Trump is hiring Steve Sadow, a veteran criminal defense lawyer in Atlanta who has taken on a number of high-profile cases.

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Trump Shakes Up His Georgia Legal Team Ahead of Atlanta Booking (1)

By Richard Fausset,Maggie Haberman and Danny Hakim

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. Sadow filed a document with the court on Thursday stating that he was now “lead counsel of record for Donald John Trump.”

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. Trump, who is often dissatisfied with lawyers he hires, had been inquiring for several days about who else he could bring in, according to a person familiar with the discussions who was not authorized to speak publicly. Mr. Trump’s main concern, according to the person, was that he wanted a more “sophisticated” team.

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.”

“Prosecutions intended to advance or serve the ambitions and careers of political opponents of the president have no place in our justice system,” he said.

The shake-up was first reported by ABC News.

Mr. Trump is expected to surrender on Thursday at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, where he is likely to be fingerprinted and photographed, as is usually done with all criminal defendants in the county. Supporters of Mr. Trump began arriving outside the jail early in the morning; 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 him, but also an array of his allies, who are accused of engaging in election interference after the November 2020 vote. The defendants include Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer, and Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s former White House chief of staff.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than half of the 19 defendants had been booked at the jail, including Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Meadows, 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, which under Georgia law would require the trial for all 19 defendants to begin by Nov. 3 — months earlier than prosecutors had sought.

On Thursday, the Fulton County district attorney, Fani T. Willis, filed a motion requesting that the trial start “for all 19 defendants” on Oct. 23. Mr. Trump then filed a response opposing the October trial date and noting that he would seek to sever his case from Mr. Chesebro’s and that of any other defendant who seeks a speedy trial.

On Thursday afternoon, the presiding judge, Scott McAfee, approved the speedy-trial request, though he made clear that the new trial date applied only to Mr. Chesebro.

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

Ms. Willis’s office has also 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.

On Thursday, Ms. Willis’s office subpoenaed the Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, and a former chief investigator in Mr. Raffensperger’s office, Frances Watson, to testify on Monday in connection with Mr. Meadows’s effort to move the case to federal court.

Mr. Trump often abruptly reconfigures his legal team, and has cycled through scores of lawyers over his decades as a businessman and in his more recent political career. He has sometimes been known to refuse to pay lawyers for their work.

The lawyers working for him in connection with the four criminal cases are being paid, but not with Mr. Trump’s personal funds; instead, he is using money donated by his supporters in the wake of the 2020 election, after he said he needed help to pursue claims of widespread voting fraud — claims that were widely debunked.

A number of lawyers working on Mr. Trump’s behalf have faced their own legal troubles recently, especially regarding the indictment in Georgia.

Mr. Sadow is widely seen in Atlanta legal circles as one of the city’s most talented criminal defense lawyers. Like Mr. Findling, Mr. Sadow has represented rap clients, including T.I. and Rick Ross, and the singer Usher.

Mr. Sadow represented the rapper Gunna, whose real name is Sergio Kitchens, in a high-profile case in Fulton County. Mr. Kitchens pleaded guilty in December to a racketeering charge in the sprawling case against Young Slime Life, or YSL, an Atlanta hip-hop collective. He was released after his initial five-year sentence was commuted to time served, with the remainder suspended.


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, who pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge, an outcome Mr. Sadow called “a very good deal for all concerned.”

When Mr. Trump chose Mr. Findling last summer to head his Georgia legal defense team, the choice fit with Mr. Trump’s pop-culture ties and his affinity for oversize 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.

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 mounted a vigorous defense of Mr. Trump. Before the former president’s indictment last week, Mr. Findling and his team sought 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.

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.

Richard Fausset is a correspondent based in Atlanta. He mainly writes about the American South, focusing on politics, culture, race, poverty and criminal justice. He previously worked at The Los Angeles Times, including as a foreign correspondent in Mexico City. More about Richard Fausset

Maggie Haberman is a senior political correspondent and the author of “Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America.” She was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for reporting on President Trump’s advisers and their connections to Russia. More about Maggie Haberman

Danny Hakim is an investigative reporter. He has been a European economics correspondent and bureau chief in Albany and Detroit. He was also a lead reporter on the team awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News. More about Danny Hakim

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