Facing high-stakes investigations that could cripple his business empire or even mean jail time for him and close associates, former President Donald Trump and his family’s armada of lawyers are facing a threat from within.
Her name is Alina Habba, and—almost out of nowhere—the relatively unknown New Jersey lawyer went from representing a college student ticked off at COVID-19 virtual learning to being one of the top attorneys defending the twice-impeached former president in some of the country’s most high-profile cases.
There’s just one problem for Habba: There’s hardly anyone in the Trump legal universe who can stand her.
Many of Habba’s fellow senior Trumpland attorneys—including but not limited to Alan Garten—have all privately vented that she has botched things or doesn’t know what she’s doing, according to Trumpworld legal sources intimately familiar with the topic. Some of them want her fired or sidelined.
Some of the Trump lawyers think her work is so bad—so self-interested, pointlessly aggressive, and sloppy—that they think Habba’s mere presence on the team increases the likelihood of Trump and his family facing court losses and legal peril.
This reporting is based on interviews with four current and former Trump lawyers, as well as three other sources familiar with the situation at the Trump Organization and in the Trump family orbit.
“‘What the fuck is she doing?’ is probably the most common question we asked about her,” one of these lawyers, who still works in the Trump inner sanctum, remarked last week.
Habba’s professional conduct, decisions, and courtroom theatrics have routinely embarrassed her Trumpworld legal colleagues—to the point that there are multiple group chats of Trump lawyers where much of the discussion is devoted to profusely complaining about Habba or harshly mocking her. (Habba, naturally, is not included in the text or email threads.)
Habba did not reply to requests for comment. Instead, the Trump Organization released a largely similar statement given to Axios when it profiled Habba in January.
“This story is totally untrue. Alina Habba is not only an incredibly competent attorney, she has our utmost trust and confidence and has the fortitude to take on some of the most politically corrupt and unethical institutions in this country,” read a statement attributed to Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons.
But if she has the utmost trust and confidence of Eric Trump, lawyers attached to Trumpworld aren’t as sure. One lawyer in the Trump orbit, who acknowledged they had never met Habba, simply had this to say of her legal analysis on TV: “Ouch.”
For those wondering how she has stuck around this long—with so many of her fellow Trump-aligned attorneys agitating for her removal and constantly griping about her—the answer lies with the TV-and-image-obsessed 45th president.
In private, Trump has repeatedly commented on how much she “loves Trump” and has on many occasions gushed to close associates about her physical appearance—how she’s “a beauty” on TV and at his clubs, according to two sources who’ve talked to him about Habba in recent months.
Another attorney pointed out that Habba seems to be filling a spot that was once reserved for Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell: an attack-dog lawyer who serves as a mouthpiece for Trump. But this person also warned that Habba could ultimately share their fate. Both lawyers have faced disciplinary inquiries over their willingness to amplify their client’s baseless claims in a matter considered undignified in the legal profession.
Habba has also taken her role as Trump’s personal litigator and turned what would normally be staid courtroom arguments into showy antics that—to her deeply disdainful colleagues—seem like a constant audition for conservative television.
“If you want to be a lawyer you stick to the facts in the case. Stick to the law. If you want to be on some news show… then that’s probably where you should be,” one such lawyer told The Daily Beast.
Those theatrics were on full display last month in New York state court, when Habba argued against having Trump testify before New York Attorney General Letitia James by casting the entire investigation as a smear job and making snarky speeches parroting right-wing political talking points—including a non sequitur argument about Hillary Clinton. Habba was repeatedly reprimanded by a clerk for interrupting the judge and talking over him.
But it hasn’t just been her courtroom lawyering that’s drawn the ire of fellow Trump lawyers. Habba signed off on a court filing last month making assertions that were immediately countered by Trump’s own public statement the very next day.
While court papers said Trump “denies knowledge” about the way his brand value was used to inflate the value of business properties, Trump himself quickly turned around and publicly detailed exactly how he slapped a brand premium that inflated the value of some business properties in 2014. Attorneys at the James’ office seized on that and asked the judge to treat Trump’s statement as admissions, forcing Trump to testify for the office’s ongoing bank fraud and tax dodging investigation.
The judge later ruled Trump must appear for questioning under oath, and that ruling is heading to a state appeals court.
Sources said the public statement had been reviewed by Trump’s lawyers before it was published, making the legal self-own even more confounding.
One source in Trump’s orbit who spoke to The Daily Beast wondered whether Habba had found herself in the same position as so many Trump lawyers before her: stuck with an unruly client who will say anything he wants, consequences be damned.
Habba, who turns 38 this month, runs a small law firm just an eight-minute drive from Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. According to three sources, Habba has spent an inordinate amount of time at Trump properties, including the Jersey golf club. She's there so often, in fact, that car thieves drove past a security checkpoint at the club last month before tracking down her unlocked vehicle at another parking lot and breaking in, she told The Daily Mail.
Habba first appeared on the Trump scene last year. As well-known New York attorney Marc Kasowitz stepped away from representing the former president on several lawsuits, she came in to assume the responsibility.
In September, Habba took over Trump’s defense in the 2017 lawsuit claiming that he forcibly kissed and sexually touched Summer Zervos, a former contestant on season five of The Apprentice. When the case went nowhere for five years, Zervos dropped the lawsuit in November, a move that Habba touted as her own victory for her client.
However, a person familiar with that case told The Daily Beast that the case was dropped due to Zervos’ own frustration with the protracted case, and that Habba’s involvement had almost nothing to do with the case taking half a decade.
Then in November, Habba got involved in Trump’s defense against journalist E. Jean Carroll, who claimed he raped her in the 1990s then sued for defamation when he said she was lying. In that case, Habba took a decidedly more novel strategy, claiming that Trump was practicing free speech protected by New York laws when he claimed "she’s not my type" from a White House podium and put out a statement claiming Carroll was merely “trying to sell a new book.” This month, the federal judge on the case shut that argument down—and even castigated Trump and his legal team for engaging in legal delay tactics.
In December, Trump tapped Habba to launch a head-turning attack against Letitia James, suing in federal court to have a judge unilaterally block the state attorney general’s investigation.
According to two people familiar with the matter, several of Trump’s attorneys working alongside Habba were vocally opposed to the move and internally argued against doing what they saw as a counterproductive move that was doomed to fail. Those other lawyers largely blamed Habba for backing up Trump on the suit, and encouraging Trump’s vengeful instinct to do it.
In recent months, Habba has done several TV appearances on Fox News and Newsmax, railing against a legal system she claims is stacked against conservatives. Lawyers, especially those who represent high-profile figures, often appear on television to discuss their cases. But they rarely attack the character of the judges overseeing their cases—or set expectations by saying any future loss in court is completely determined by a judge’s personal politics.
And yet, that tactic is quickly becoming a favorite for Habba.
In January, she gave copious amounts of side-eye to U.S. District Judge Brenda K. Sannes and Magistrate Judge Christian F. Hummel, telling a Newsmax host, “We have our cards stacked against us in New York. We’re in the northern district, we have judges that you know are mostly liberal unfortunately… if the judge can put his politics on the side, this should be granted and we should win.”
Habba also recently lobbed a few grenades at New York Judge Arthur F. Engoron and others when she appeared on Newsmax.
"At the end of the day, this is the problem with New York State right now. Donald Trump cannot get a fair judge to hear him on the facts with what’s going on,” she told the host last month.
Her other legal work isn’t nearly as politically charged.
In 2020, she sued on behalf of several New Jersey nursing homes over alleged abuse of their patients. And she represented a student who sued the University of Bridgeport, because the Connecticut school was charging full tuition while only holding virtual classes in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the 2010 graduate of Widener School of Law—ranked in the bottom 25 percent of law schools, according to U.S. News and World Report—has taken on at least one other conservative client.
In July, she represented pharmaceutical entrepreneur Caesar DePaço in federal court when he sued Portuguese journalists for exposing his close ties to that country’s far-right Chega party.