In hush money probe, Trump's lawyer is anything but quiet
The accelerating probe into former President Trump’s involvement in a hush-money scandal has a new face, one eager to hit the airwaves ahead of any potential criminal charges.
Joe Tacopina made the rounds on TV this week, enthusiastically defending the former president in the court of public opinion as Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg appears to be wrapping up his presentation to a grand jury reviewing a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
Trump himself on Saturday said his arrest could come Tuesday, lashing out at New York authorities.
“Protest, take our nation back!” Trump said in a post on Truth Social, calling on supporters to protest his potential arrest.
Tacopina’s style has drawn comparison to that of his client, dismissing the probe as one that should prompt “a healthy dose of disgust from the bar, the legal community, prosecutors, defense lawyers alike.”
He’s defended Trump for falsely saying he was unaware of the payment — “Of course it’s not the truth,” he said on MSNBC this week — and claimed that the exchange in no way violated campaign finance laws, the very charge former Trump fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to.
Tacopina’s flashy entrance comes amid a flurry of activity in the probe.
The grand jury this week heard from Cohen, while Daniels met with prosecutors in what she said was part of her “continuing fight for truth and justice.”
Trump has denied having a relationship with Daniels, but a potential case would largely center on the former president’s role in directing the payment and whether doing so just days before the 2016 election violated campaign finance laws. Trump’s company labeled Cohen’s reimbursement of the payment as a legal expense and did not disclose them in campaign finance reports.
Tacopina, a former Brooklyn prosecutor, has made national television appearances that stretch back decades as he racked up a client list including celebrities such as Michael Jackson, A-Rod, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky and Don Imus.
"The guy is just made for television," Phil Griffin, MSNBC’s former president, told Westport Magazine in 2002. "He's got the looks, he's got the voice, that all plays into it, but it's really his authority and his honesty that are so refreshing. There are guests who fill the time with banter, and there's Joe, who's like, ‘You're wrong!'"
Tacopina did not respond to questions from The Hill.
He has also represented Trump allies in the past, including Bernard Kerik, a former New York police commissioner who also aided Rudy Giuliani’s team in investigating purported voter fraud in the 2020 election. Tacopina served as Kerik’s attorney in a case where he ultimately pleaded guilty to tax fraud and other charges in 2007, later being pardoned by Trump.
But Kerik’s relationship with Tacopina soured. The former police commissioner tapped Tim Parlatore, now an attorney representing Trump in matters before special counsel Jack Smith, to launch a suit alleging malpractice after Tacopina spoke to federal authorities about the case. The suit, however, was later dismissed.
Beyond the hush-money probe, Tacopina has also represented the former president in a civil sexual battery lawsuit from author E. Jean Carroll, whose claims Trump also denies.
Tacopina told CNN in 2018 that he briefly consulted with Daniels on the hush-money agreement, a detail that could become an issue if prosecutors file charges against Trump. Tacopina largely declined to discuss the matter at the time, saying “there is an attorney-client privilege that attaches even to a consultation.”
Although he has represented many celebrities and politicians, he is now adding Trump ahead of what could be the first criminal indictment of a former U.S. president.
After Manhattan prosecutors invited Trump to testify before the grand jury hearing evidence in the probe, usually a signal that charges are likely, Tacopina reportedly huddled last weekend at Mar-a-Lago with other Trump aides to discuss their next steps.
By Monday morning, Tacopina began taking to the airwaves to vociferously defend his client, making appearances on ABC, Fox News and MSNBC.
It began with an interview on “Good Morning America,” where he described Trump as a victim of extortion and rejected the notion that the hush money could be caught up in campaign finance violations.
“I don’t know since when we’ve decided to start prosecuting extortion victims,” Tacopina told host George Stephanopoulos. “He’s vehemently denied this affair, but he had to pay money because there was going to be an allegation that was going to be publicly embarrassing to him — regardless of the campaign.”
But Andrew Weissmann, a former prosecutor who served as one of the lead attorneys on the Mueller investigation, said the claim is itself problematic.
“That is an admission he paid $ (which he had been denying) and the $ was not for legal fees (the cover story). Because the NY criminal case reportedly focuses on the crime of making false business records -- his ‘defense’ is an confession,” Weissmann wrote on Twitter.
Things got heated the following day, when Tacopina sat down with MSNBC host Ari Melber, who played a 2018 clip of Trump indicating he had no knowledge of the Daniels payment, calling that a lie.
Tacopina acknowledged it wasn’t true, but pushed back, saying Trump couldn’t violate the terms of the confidential settlement.
He grabbed a paper in Melber’s hand that seemed to contain notes about the statement, saying, “Put the paper down. Put the paper down, let me answer. We don’t need that.”
During prime time on Wednesday, Tacopina joined Fox’s Sean Hannity for a more friendly interview. Tacopina said the legal system had become “completely weaponized.”
Tacopina’s rounds — both in affect and in substance — prompted other criticism as well, with late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel joking that Tacopina “seems to have been born in the ashtray of Rudy Giuliani’s Lincoln Continental.”
Cohen, who spent a little over a year in prison as well as another year and a half in home confinement due to his connection with the Daniels payoff, also made comparisons to Giuliani, saying Tacopina was following in “Rudy ‘Colludy’s’ steps.”
“To be honest, I was embarrassed for him. I was actually embarrassed for our profession,” Cohen said.
He added that journalists challenged Tacopina’s arguments in real time, making it difficult for the attorney.
“You're not playing to a party of one when you're sitting across the desk from Ari Melber. And he wasn't going to just accept whatever answer that Joe Tacopina decided to put out there. He was going to challenge him. And sadly, it's not the first time. George Stephanopoulos did the exact same thing and schooled him. He's making Trump look even worse, if that's possible.”