By Rachel Stein
Exclusive Yated Interview With Trump Lawyer David Schoen
Mr. David Schoen, resident of Atlanta, Georgia, and an integral part of the close-knit religious community, represented former president Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial. Mr. Schoen has offices in New York and Alabama but takes on cases from all around the country and overseas. Once he accepts a case, he invests tremendous effort in every aspect of the case from its incipience to its resolution. With over thirty years of experience to draw from, Mr. Schoen has vast complex litigation experience. In standing up for integrity and Torah values during the impeachment trial, Mr. Schoen succeeded in winning more than the trial – he created a global kiddush Hashem.
Mr. Schoen, please tell us a little more about your background.
I have been practicing law for about thirty-six years and do constitutional litigation. I specialize in the areas of federal criminal defense and in civil rights law.
How did you come to be recommended to defend Mr. Trump during his second impeachment?
A few well known people recommended me, and about three weeks ago, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff called. He asked me if I’d be interested in representing him, and I told him I needed to think about it. A few hours later, Mr. Trump called, telling me he’d like me to lead the case. After some deliberation, I told Mr. Trump that this case was too big for me to do independently. His staff hired a few lawyers from Pennsylvania to work with me, but Mr. Trump continued to maintain that he preferred for me to lead the case. By nature, I don’t like to give other people orders, so I felt a little uncomfortable with this role. But we made it work, and I felt honored to represent Mr. Trump.
Were you surprised by the attention your adherence to Shabbos, brachos, and wearing a yarmulke received?
Yes, I certainly was! But what choice did I have? We originally thought the trial would be over on Tuesday, but it continued. Once Shabbos came into the picture, I refused to consider attending court on Shabbos, even without using a microphone. It wouldn’t be Shabbos if I worked, even with amendments that could make it halachically kosher. I ended up walking about twelve miles on Shabbos to get to a shul. I did feel bad to let Mr. Trump down by not showing up on that very important last day.
There was another time while the trial was going on when I felt very hot and in desperate need of a drink. I held my hand over my head while saying a brocha and relieving my thirst. Chuck Schumer, a top Democrat and a senate majority leader, said, “You know my real name, don’t you?”
I took a guess. “Shomer?”
“Yes,” Schumer replied, “And I was explaining to everyone why you were covering your head.”
How proud were you of this?
I felt proud to make that statement in a setting like this and heartened to find that it inspired some people.
A CNN reporter tweeted out a message to you that parshas Mishpotim would be read on Shabbos, and in the posuk it says, “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many so as to pervert justice.”
Did you find that offensive?
Honestly, I didn’t really pay attention and only found out about it some time later. I know there were readers who found it offensive that someone was quoting Jewish Biblical sources to attack a religious Jewish lawyer.
Were you apprehensive about taking on the job after all the bashing Trump has received from the Democrats, Republicans, and the media?
Not really. I was naïve. I didn’t realize I would receive so much hate mail and email, including death threats to myself and my family.
What was it like to work for Mr. Trump? Is he at all like the media would have us believe him to be?
Mr. Trump was as gracious to me as he could possibly be. He complimented me, supported me, and built me up.
“I hired you, I want you to lead this team, and I have full confidence in you,” he told me numerous times.
Why did the Democrats quickly end the trial when your side let it be known that if they would introduce witnesses to the trial, you also would? What were they afraid of?
Good question! The schedule set out a time for a debate about whether there would be witnesses. The democrats said, “No witnesses.” When they showed up for the hearing and said they do want to call one witness, they took everyone by surprise.
Were you happy with the way things worked out?
Yes. I was a little disappointed to leave right after my presentation. But we got forty-three votes against conviction and only needed thirty-four to win.
Were you let down that seven Republicans voted to convict Trump?
It was expected that at least one would. We thought there would be anywhere from five to seven who would try to convict, and it turned out to be seven. Each one had his own political interests.
Do you think their votes had anything to do with the quality of the defense or the constitutional issues involved?
A lot of issues were probably decided ahead of time. Some senators, especially Romney, simply hate Mr. Trump. Others had questions that were not answered and were frustrated. However, I don’t think those are valid reasons to convict him.
Is there anything you could have argued that could have made them change their minds?
I don’t know if I could have changed their minds, but I wish I had been there for the closing argument. On Friday evening, they had a question-and-answer period that I was unable to attend.
In general, do you think the impeachment trial was political theater, or do you feel that the senators seriously thought about the issues and voted on the merits of the case?
It was definitely political theater and political weaponization of impeachment. This process constituted abuse of the impeachment process and should not have happened. However, there were certainly Republican senators who thought seriously about many issues.
Do you think this is the end or will the Democrats continue to search for ways to go after Mr. Trump?
I believe they will continue to search for ways to go after him.
How did your religious beliefs as an Orthodox Jew influence your choice to specialize in civil rights litigation?
I think many of Judaism’s values are consistent with civil rights, including standing up for the underprivileged and helping those who need more support.
What was it like to live and work as an Orthodox Jew in the small and relatively isolated Jewish community of Montgomery, Alabama?
I lived and worked in Montgomery before becoming fully observant, so at that time in my life, it did not present conflicts.
Can you tell us about some of the cases in which you assisted the American victims of terrorism in recovering damages under the Federal Anti-Terrorism Act?
I was involved in two big cases. One of them took place in New York, called Sokolow, and tragically, there were many victims. The injured and murdered American plaintiffs in the Sokolow case were the victims of PA/PLO-sponsored terrorist bombings on Israeli buses and on a pedestrian-filled Jerusalem street, and machine gun attacks carried out by PA police officers on cars in Israel filled with innocent Jewish civilians. I represented the victims, successfully argued pre-trial key motions, and obtained critical testimony and documentation of the PLO’s involvement. The other case was Shatsky in Washington, D.C. The Shatsky case involved a bombing in a pizzeria that killed two American girls in Karnei Shomron. I worked on both cases for a while and wound up finding out who was behind these acts of terror. These were among the most meaningful cases of my career. Regrettably, due to differences of opinion with the people who hired me, I wound up bowing out of both cases, but they were among the most meaningful of my career.
In your law firm’s description of your legal practice, it notes that “his experiences in some early cases led David to recognize systemic problems in the criminal justice system and other institutional services, and he developed a civil practice designed primarily to seek remedies four some of these institutional problems, generally through class actions.” Can you further explain the nature of these “systemic problems” and how they should be remedied?
I used to take on a lot of civil rights cases. I received the American Bar Association National Pro-Bono Publico award for bringing about needed changes in the South to public institutions, like jails, schools, prisons, foster care, and other establishments. The foster care system in Alabama is terrible, and I filed a lawsuit against them so that outside monitors were brought in to oversee and revamp the entire system. People suffered terribly in the jails. I sued many counties, forcing them to build new jails. Helping victims of an unjust system was very satisfying, and I felt grateful for the opportunities to make a difference.
How have your religious principles as an Orthodox Jew affected your performance as a lawyer in the courtroom?
I approached every issue with integrity and would never mock anyone on a personal level. It is my hope that every individual, Jew, or Gentile, understands how essential it is to utilize these traits. However, as an Orthodox Jew in the limelight, I do feel an added responsibility to be ethical and act appropriately.
In the run-up to Donald Trump’s Second impeachment trial, you publicly thanked the Democrat and Republican leaders of the Senate for their willingness to accommodate your request to cancel trial sessions on Shabbos. Have you encountered similar difficulties in your legal career in the past, and if so, how were they resolved?
I have not encountered it before since court is not usually held on Shabbos. There have been times, however, when I have gotten stuck out of town for Shabbos. When I was involved in the Shatsky case, I walked a long distance to my hotel where I stayed throughout Shabbos.
What message can you share after your pivotal experience in the impeachment trial?
I’m very gratified that people in the Orthodox Jewish community have taken the Shabbos issue in a positive light. I’ve received many emails with messages saying, “You’re a shame to the Jewish people! How dare you represent Trump! Why are you wearing your Judaism on your sleeves?” Thankfully, the Orthodox community has shown me a great deal of support and positive acknowledgement.
Utilizing your talents to benefit others while adhering to Torah values reflects the light of Jewry throughout the world. May you continue to help others in your pursuit justice and equity.