Donald Trump’s legal team has been mired in months of deep mistrust and interpersonal conflict that could have undermined its defense former president the criminal investigation into his handling of classified documents and obstruction of justice in Mar-a-Lago is nearing completion.

The turmoil within the legal team only exploded into public view when one of the lead lawyers, Tim Parlator, abruptly left the firm two weeks ago, citing irreconcilable differences with Trump’s senior adviser and staff attorney Boris Epstein.

But Parlatore’s departure is the culmination of months of simmering tensions that continue to threaten the legal team’s effectiveness at a crucial time — when federal prosecutors are weighing criminal charges — in part because interpersonal conflicts remain largely unresolved.

It also comes as several of Trump’s lawyers are embroiled in multiple criminal investigations against the former president: Epstein was the special prosecutor recently spokewhile Parlator and Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran testified to a grand jury in the classified documents investigation.

The excitement revolved around animosity between lawyers on the legal team, who began to distrust each other, and their animosity directed at Epstein because of what they see as his oversight of legal work and direct access to the former president.

In one case, the clashes became so heated that some of the lawyers agreed to a so-called “murder-suicide” deal, whereby if one was fired, the others would resign in solidarity. And when some of the attorneys tried to disqualify Epstein, they withheld information from fellow attorneys who they suspected might have tipped him off.

The infighting eventually reached a point where some lawyers began to believe that the biggest obstacle to Trump’s defense might simply be mistrust and interpersonal conflict, rather than someone like Parlatore choosing to cooperate with prosecutors.

In fact, the legal team is said to be confident that Parlator will not turn against Trump after he told a grand jury hearing evidence in the case last year that Trump had given him free rein to search for any documents left in his possessions in last year, according to the protocol of his testimony.

But a final effort to remove Epstein from the case failed, and Epstein remains a trusted member of Trump’s inner circle. The months of deteriorating relations leading up to this point were described to the Guardian by six people familiar with the situation.

In a statement, Trump’s spokesman said: “This is absolutely false and rooted in pure fantasy. The real story is the illegal use of weapons by the Department of Justice and their witch hunt to influence the election to try to prevent President Trump from returning to the White House.”

Lawyers named in this story either declined to comment or did not return calls for comment.

Dinner in West Palm Beach portends disagreements

The feud within Trump’s legal team began almost immediately afterward The FBI seized 101 classified documents from Mar-a-Lago last August, when Trump’s lawyers asked a federal judge to appoint a special master to review the filings for privilege protections.

The legal team at the time consisted of former federal prosecutors Jim Trusty and Evan Corcoran, whose search for classified documents in response to the subpoena later proved incomplete. Florida Solicitor General Chris Keyes and attorney Lindsay Halligan.

Trump attorneys Jim Trusty and Lindsey Halligan leave dinner at The Breakers Hotel in West Palm Beach, Florida. Photo: Hugo Lowell/The Guardian

Lawyers put up a united front, arguing with U.S. District Court Judge Eileen Cannon that she should grant a special master, which she did — a strategic victory for Trump that allowed him to delay the criminal investigation and allow prosecutors to review the documents.

But Trustee, who played a leading role in the special trial, was already frustrated with the way things were going.

Trusty’s personal mood was revealed during a dinner with Halligan and Corcoran at the five-star Breakers Hotel in West Palm Beach, Florida. hours after the special court session. The conversation was overheard by a Guardian reporter who happened to be sitting at the table next to them.

Trustee’s main irritation with Epstein, he said, was that he had to make court decisions even though he didn’t consider him a trial lawyer and objected to what he believed to be prioritizing Trump’s alleged problems with PR than real legal issues.

He criticized Epstein for trying to “deal with” these issues before they could reach Trump, instead of letting him brief the former president himself. This whole situation meant that the lawyers had to play a game of thrones, which distracted him.

Trusty then discussed legal strategy, suggesting that Kise was “too apologetic” in his opening statement to the judge and questioning the validity of the FBI warrant for Mar-a-Lago. He also said he was not interested in talking to reporters from Lawfare or the New York Times due to their coverage.

Opinions of lawyers regarding further searches differed

The Trust’s irritation at Epstein’s involvement in court discussions was shared by Parlatori weeks later, when the Justice Department told Trump’s legal team in October that it believed the former president was still in possession of classified documents.

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The debate over how to respond to the department’s allegations has split the legal team. Epstein and Kiese were not in favor of voluntary searches of Trump’s assets, while Parlator and Trusty suggested a more proactive approach involving new searches.

Epstein and Kise were unconvinced for several weeks. But Parlator and the Trustees felt that if they did find more classified documents, but immediately returned them to the Justice Department, it would be harder for prosecutors to say that Trump intentionally withheld classified material.

New Trump’s property was searched, though in Parlatore’s retelling of the discussions to CNN last week, Epstein was reluctant to authorize a search of Trump’s golf club in Bedminster. Trump’s attorney, Alina Haba, was later booked on CNN to dispute Parlatori’s account.

But the episode also sparked new distrust among the lawyers themselves, not just Epstein. When reports of the DOJ’s suspicions surfaced, Parlator and Trusty were surprised to see Kise it seems that he always sought to cooperate with the prosecutor’s office.

For Parlatore and Trusti, although Kise ultimately supported further exploration, he was hardly a major voice. And when Keys waived an argument in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to leave a special master with 24 hours’ notice, they sent him to the civil trial panel.

Lawyers stage Mar-a-Lago intervention

When Kisse left the team defending Trump in the special counsel matters, Parlatore and Trusti’s interpersonal conflicts with Epstein reached a new level as they grew increasingly irritated by what they perceived as their inability to consult directly with Trump without going to Epstein.

The couple was annoyed that when they talked to Trump on the phone, Epstein was usually on the phone as well. At another time, they found that Epstein would give too rosy predictions for Trump, and in March went to Mar-a-Lago get Trump’s permission to exclude him from future discussions.

It was not clear whether the issue had actually been resolved. Parlor left the meeting, saying he didn’t need to talk to Epstein anymore. However, Epstein remained Trump’s full-time legal counsel and legal team liaison to the Trump 2024 campaign.

Around that time, Parlator and Trusty also began withholding information from Corcoran because they worried that Corcoran was too close to Epstein and was informing him behind their backs.

That meant the special counsel stepped up its investigation into the documents after prosecutors convinced a U.S. appeals court force Corcoran to turn over his notes to the grand juryat least two members of the legal team had little or no idea what the other two lawyers were doing unless they found out some other way.

Personal conflicts erupt publicly

Around that time, Trump’s advisers and lawyers began hearing grumblings about whether Parlator and the Trustees should continue in their roles. When the couple heard about his requests, they decided that if one of them was indeed fired, the other would have to resign as well.

The feud also intensified as Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg prepared to indict Trump in the money laundering case, and Parlator pressed Epstein to let celebrity attorney Joe Tacopino — whom he hated related to the previous case – should not be on the team defending the former president.

Epstein suggested it was out of his control because Tacopino was recommended by other people in Trump’s orbit, including Kimberly Guilfoyle, which Parlator saw as snide.

Parlor also made a mistake when he and Trusty urged Congress in a letter last month to tell the Justice Department to “drop” its criminal investigation into the documents, laying out a detailed defense that argued in part that aides, not Trump himself, were responsible.

The 10-page letter was addressed to Trump, and they believed it had the former president’s endorsement. But Trump was furious days later when he saw wording in the letter cast doubt on his previous public statements about how the White House and classified documents ended up at Mar-a-Lago.

Parlor also chose not to alert Epstein about the letter, which some Trump campaign members have used as an example of why the legal team needed its scrutiny.

But the immediate reason for Parlatori’s departure was the row over the discussion of the letter on CNN. Parlator chose to appear on the network because he believed Attorney General Merrick Garland was more likely to watch CNN than a conservative network like Newsmax.

Exactly who ordered the cancellation of Parlatori’s appearance remains unclear, though Trump 2024 campaign officials later told lawyers that it was because he criticized Tacopina he was last on CNN. As the special counsel’s investigation drew to a close, Parlator told Trump he had enough and left.

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