Alina Habba, attorney for former President Donald Trump, leaves Manhattan Federal Court on January 18 in New York City. Habba is under pressure amid reports her client Allen Weisselberg committed perjury.
Donald Trump’s lawyer, Alina Habba, may be in a “pickle” if she admits she was aware that one of her clients lied under oath during the former president’s civil fraud trial, according to a legal expert.
Lisa Rubin, a lawyer and a legal analyst, was reacting to the recent reports surrounding former Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, who is named alongside Trump in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ fraud lawsuit accusing the former president of inflating the value of his properties in financial statements for years.
Weisselberg previously pleaded guilty to 15 felony charges in a separate case regarding a tax evasion scheme carried out by the Trump Organization. He is also considered a key witness in Trump’s upcoming criminal falsifying business records trial where the former president has pleaded not guilty to 34 charges in relation to hush money paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels.
Weisselberg is reportedly negotiating a plea deal with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office leads the falsifying business records case, which would see the CFO plead guilty to perjury over his October 2023 testimony in the civil trial.
If Weisselberg is found to have committed perjury in the civil fraud trial, it could severely damage his chances of being considered a reliable witness in the criminal falsifying business trial involving Trump, which is scheduled for March.
In response, Judge Arthur Engoron, who is overseeing Trump’s civil fraud trial, wrote to Trump’s lawyers and asked them if they knew if Weisselberg was “admitting he lied under oath in my courtroom” during the civil trial proceedings.
Habba, who represented both Trump and Weisselberg in the civil trial, said she has no information to share as she does not represent Weisselberg in criminal matters. Habba also suggested to Engoron that she had been “advised that I am constrained by my professional ethical obligations from providing any further detail.”
Writing for MSNBC, Rubin said that Habba did not deny that some portion of Weisselberg’s testimony was “knowingly false” but informed Engoron that Rule 3.3, which deals with a lawyer’s ethical obligations to her client, precludes her from “saying more.”
“Or is it more complicated? Could Habba be saying that because Weisselberg’s interests now diverge from those of other clients, notably Trump’s, she is truly in a pickle?” Rubin wrote.
“For now, it’s not clear what ethical obligations she’s referring to. After all, Engoron — in an emailed response to counsel Thursday — reaffirmed Habba’s duties under Rule 3.3. And he ended with a stern warning: ‘[I]f someone pleads guilty to committing perjury in a case over which I am presiding, I want to know about it,'” Rubin added.
“But while l’affaire Weisselberg ultimately may not prevent Engoron from ruling soon, the episode — and not her actual courtroom antics — could be what causes the greatest harm yet to Alina Habba’s standing as a lawyer. Watch this space.”
Newsweek reached out to Habba via email for comment.
Former federal prosecutor Michael McAuliffe recently told Newsweek that Habba is in a “no-win” situation because of her associations with Trump across numerous legal battles, and she could face legal consequences such as contempt proceedings or professional ethics complaints because of them.
“Habba’s role as counsel to multiple individuals in Trump’s orbit shows how the Trump-related matters all seem to collide eventually,” McAuliffe said. “For a lawyer, it’s akin to a professional death wish.
“If Habba was or is ethically obligated to disclose to Engoron information about her client’s testimony—potentially perjurious by his own admission—it will surely hurt Trump’s defense,” McAuliffe added.
Engoron has already ruled that Trump committed fraud by misstating the value of his properties and assets, such as his Mar-a-Lago resort, in his financial statements.
Engoron said he hopes to make a decision on the punishment, which could see Trump fined hundreds of millions of dollars and banned from doing business in New York, by mid-February.
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