Todd Blanche: Who is the man tasked with keeping Donald Trump out of prison?

He was once a prosecutor and a member of the Democrats. Todd Blanche is now defending former President Donald Trump in court. This gives him a good fee – but also poses a lot of dangers.

The more Todd Blanche dares to argue back, the more the judge loses patience. “I keep asking for a specific example and I don't get an answer,” says Judge Juan Merchan. He points out to the lawyer that time is short. “The prosecution can talk for as long as they want,” complains Blanche.

Todd Blanche is Donald Trump's chief attorney and is representing him in the first criminal trial in American history against a former president. The exchange between judge and defense attorney, which took place last Tuesday, concerns the question of whether Trump violated a court requirement not to intimidate witnesses.

Blanche rejects this and argues that his client is simply reacting to the statements of others with posts on social media, which is covered by freedom of expression. The judge wants to know which statements Trump specifically responded to. When Blanche can't answer that, things get heated. So heated that the judge finally tells Blanche, “You'll lose all credibility in court!”

A brief moment of silence in the New York courtroom, Trump's star lawyer is shocked and apologizes.

For Donald Trump, there is a lot at stake in this process. If he is found guilty, he could face a hefty fine or even prison. Either way, the former president would be a convicted felon.

“An opportunity I shouldn't miss”

But for Trump's lawyer it's about almost everything. He tied his fate to that of his client. Just over a year ago, Blanche was a registered Democrat and a partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, Wall Street's oldest law firm and one of its most respected. In April 2023, he left the company and founded his own law firm fully focused on defending Trump. In an internal email, he described the decision in favor of the Trump mandate as “an opportunity that I should not miss.”

The 49-year-old has now switched to the Republicans and moved with his family from New York to Palm Beach County in Florida near Mar-a-Lago, close to Trump. When Blanche speaks about his client in court, he reverently calls him “President Trump.” For him, Blanche explained in his opening statement that this was a question of respect.

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Blanche has spent his entire professional life in New York. He knows the city very well and is aware of the reservations many citizens have about Trump, including those on the jury. In court, his goal is not only to defend the former president as best as possible, but also to change his image. “He's not just the Donald Trump you saw on TV,” Blanche said in his opening statement. “He's a husband. He's a father. And he's a human being, just like you and me.” They are words with which he wants to create a connection between the jury and Trump. It's supposed to be human.

Before Blanche went into business, he worked as a prosecutor in New York. For more than eight years he worked in the Southern District of New York, one of his colleagues was Alvin L. Bragg, now Manhattan District Attorney and Trump's accuser. At that time, Blanche specialized in violent crimes and headed the corresponding department for two years. The role of defense attorney in a criminal trial is still relatively new for him. He has only worked in this role once before.

Blanche's most important task: delay

Blanche found her way into Donald Trump's world a few years ago. He has already defended Paul Manafort, the ex-president's former campaign manager, and Igor Fruman, a former employee of Trump confidant Rudy Giuliani. When the Trump mandate became an issue, he faced headwinds from his former law firm. His colleagues feared damage to his reputation, Blanche was disappointed and left the company.

Judge Merchan recently let the chief attorney know that he doesn't think much of the strategy of trying to delay the proceedings. And it actually currently looks as if a verdict will be reached in a few weeks.

But the hush money trial is not Blanche's only task. He is also working on the so-called documents case, in which Trump is to be tried in Florida for betrayal of secrets. Another case is that of possible election fraud surrounding the last presidential election and January 6, 2021. This is where the delaying tactics are effective. None of the processes have been scheduled yet. Will this happen before the election in November? Possible, but less likely with each passing week.

Whether Blanche wins the Trump cases or not, they are financially lucrative for him personally. Blanche's law firm is paid for by Trump's campaign fundraising organization, Save America. Some of the donations that Trump raises for his renewed presidential candidacy go to Blanche via a detour. In the past twelve months it is said to have been four million US dollars, as Forbes magazine recently reported.

On the days of the trial, Trump and Blanche often speak to each other. The ex-president repeatedly leans over and whispers something in his lawyer's ear, sometimes even writing something on a piece of paper. Little is known about the relationship between the two men. Does Trump dictate the line? Does he listen to his lawyer's advice? Outside the court, Trump regularly seeks confrontation with the judge, complaining that Merchan is biased and that he should be removed.

Trump cannot allow himself to do that in the courtroom. On Thursday of next week, Juan Merchan wants to negotiate again about his possible violation of his judicial decree. On the one hand, Blanche has to ensure that the hearing does not escalate like it did last week. That would do more harm than good to his client. And on the other hand, he has to satisfy Trump. It is the most important case of his life – and the one with the greatest danger.