Jones Day, the biglaw firm most closely associated with Donald Trump, has refused to condemn comments in which he defended participants in a white supremacist march.
Organised by a self-described "pro-white" activist, the deadly Charlottesville rally saw KKK members, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and 'alt-right' supporters join forces to protest the removal of a confederate statue. Amongst violent clashes with anti-fascists, legal assistant Heather Heyer was killed when a far-right protester ploughed his car into a crowd of demonstrators.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Trump told reporters that anti-fascists "came charging in without a permit", were "very, very violent" and asked if they "have any semblance of guilt". Defending the far-right 'Unite the Right' rally, he said there were "very fine people on both sides", and characterised a pre-rally march which featured Nazi salutes and chants of "the Jews will not replace us", as "people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue". Trump's claim of moral equivalence between the far right and those who opposed it drew condemnation from across the political spectrum. But the corporate world also recoiled. So many CEOs quit Trump's advisory business councils that he was forced to disband them.
In doing so they risked incurring the US president's wrath. That brings with it a risk of financial penalty. Amazon's value dropped $5 billion after Trump tweeted negatively about the company in response to critical articles in the Washington Post, which is also owned by Jeff Bezos. But despite the commercial danger, whether as a result of newly-discovered moral fibre or a cynical (but in some ways encouraging) calculation that there are more anti-fascist customers out there than fascist ones, they nonetheless turned their backs on Trump.
Lawyers have also kept him at arms length. And some US firms have condemned the rally in Charlottesville and, in fairly direct terms, Trump himself. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom called it an "affront to the fundamental principles of equality and justice that strengthen our nation", in a statement. Gary Wingens, the chairman and managing partner of Lowenstein Sandler noted in The American Lawyer that his firm does not represent any Trump-related companies, and said he told his staff in a firmwide email, "There is no place in this firm, our communities or this country for white supremacists or leaders who do not unequivocally name them and call them out".
But Jones Day, which was paid $3.3 million in legal fees by the Trump campaign and gave up a dozen lawyers to the White House, appears to have decided that the US president's comments are not sufficiently toxic. It declined to criticise Trump's words in any way when requested to make a statement by RollOnFriday. Steve Brogan, Jones Day's Managing Partner, also declined to comment when contacted directly for his views. He also did not respond when asked to confirm whether Jones Day would act for Trump in future.
Some will say that of course Jones Day is not going to condemn its client - just like any other law firm - because it is fundamentally incompatible with the client/lawyer relationship. That overlooks the ability of a firm to drop its client. In any event, the direct monetary benefit Jones Day has enjoyed from its client relationship with Trump appears to be relatively small. The disclosed amount paid to the firm by his campaign, $3.3m, is negligible in the context of Jones Day's revenues (£1.98 billion in 2016). Rather, it appears that Jones Day values the fees it can generate indirectly from its proximity to the leader of the free world. With the Trump administration stocked with Jones Day lawyers, it has advertised itself as possessing knowledge of, and, the implication is, influence in, the febrile corridors of the White House. And apparently it's not about to turn off that tap, regardless of the decision by many other businesses to drain the one-man swamp. The firm could not even bring itself to condemn the white supremacist marchers. Call it spineless. But how many of us would refuse to bow to public pressure, and instead continue to suckle on an ethno-nationalist clown? It's actually rather brave. There are so many sides to it - so many sides.