A Jewish Ad­vo­cate For Christ

Jay Seku­low has faced ques­tions about fi­nan­cial prac­tices at his not-for-profit.

Forward Magazine - - Front Page - By Jesse Bern­stein

The un­usual per­sonal his­tory of Trump’s new de­fense lawyer.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump wel­comed an un­likely Jewish-born dar­ling of the Chris­tian right to his in­ner cir­cle of de­fend­ers in mid-June.

At­tor­ney Jay Seku­low, the new­est ad­di­tion to Trump’s per­sonal le­gal de­fense team, has been ac­cused of fraud in the past. He has put his fam­ily in charge of his or­ga­ni­za­tions. And he has been in­stru­men­tal in lim­it­ing ac­cess to le­gal abor­tions across the world.

As part of Trump’s le­gal team, Seku­low, 61, will be work­ing un­der the di­rec­tion of New York at­tor­ney Marc Ka­sowitz in the face of an in­de­pen­dent coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion into ques­tions about pos­si­ble col­lu­sion be­tween Rus­sia and in­di­vid­u­als in Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign — and more re­cently, amid con­cerns about pos­si­ble ob­struc­tion of jus­tice by the pres­i­dent him­self.

Though Ka­sowitz is grab­bing news­pa­per ink with his boasts of be­ing the tough­est lawyer on Wall Street and re­port­edly try­ing to es­tab­lish a le­gal of­fice in the White House, Seku­low is the only lawyer on Trump’s team, as of yet, who has ac­tual ex­pe­ri­ence lit­i­gat­ing be­fore the Supreme Court.

Through his work as a pri­vate at­tor­ney and as chief coun­sel of the Amer­i­can Cen­ter for Law and Jus­tice, Seku­low has led a decades-long le­gal cam­paign on be­half of evan­gel­i­cal and con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian causes. That cam­paign be­gan with a suc­cess­ful Supreme Court de­ci­sion for Jews for Je­sus in 1987, and has been ex­ported to nearly ev­ery cor­ner of the Chris­tian world.

Seku­low made a splash early when, on a June 11 episode of ABC’s “This Week With Ge­orge Stephanopou­los,” he de­clined to rule out the pos­si­bil­ity of Trump fir­ing Robert Mueller, the for­mer FBI di­rec­tor who was ap­pointed to head the spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Trump’s cam­paign.

But the lime­light is far from some­thing new for Seku­low. Since his early days as an At­lanta tax lawyer, Seku­low has led a life of op­u­lence. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports in The At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion, in the early 1980s Seku­low es­tab­lished a suc­cess­ful prac­tice that spe­cial­ized in cre­at­ing tax shel­ters for wealthy Atlantans. It en­abled him to spend money on ex­pen­sive cars and high-end real es­tate.

“Very charis­matic, very charm­ing,” Jeff rey Co­hen, an At­lanta lawyer who worked at Seku­low’s At­lanta law firm in the 1980s, told the For­ward. “He brought in busi­ness like no­body I’ve ever seen in my life. He was ex­tremely good at that.”

When a real es­tate de­vel­op­ment failed, in­vestors sued Seku­low for fraud and se­cu­ri­ties vi­o­la­tions. Seku­low de­clared bank­ruptcy, and over a dozen cred­i­tors and for­mer em­ploy­ees filed suits against him.

Co­hen him­self sued Seku­low in 1983 for breach of con­tract af­ter Seku­low failed to pay him a promised yearend $20,000 bonus. In 1991, in The At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion, Co­hen de­scribed his ex­pe­ri­ence at Seku­low’s firm as “an eight-month night­mare.” (Seku­low and his rep­re­sen­ta­tives did not re­spond to mul­ti­ple re­quests for com­ments.)

Seku­low has con­tin­ued to face ques­tions re­gard­ing his fi­nan­cial prac­tices at the ACLJ, a con­ser­va­tive not-for­profit le­gal ad­vo­cacy ini­tia­tive he runs that was founded in 1990 by the tel­e­van­ge­list Pat Robert­son, and at Chris­tian Ad­vo­cates Serv­ing Evan­ge­lism, a not-for-profit group founded by Seku­low him­self in 1988.

Seku­low set up CASE fol­low­ing his bank­ruptcy trial. He re­mains the group’s pres­i­dent. Char­i­tyWatch, a not- for- profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides rat­ings for U.S. char­i­ties, gives CASE a C+ on its phil­an­thropic rat­ings scale, in part be­cause the only vot­ing mem­bers on CASE’s board are Seku­low’s fam­ily. Daniel Boro­choff, the pres­i­dent and founder of Char­i­tyWatch, told the For­ward that be­cause the ACLJ re­ceives nearly all of its fund­ing through CASE, it rates both not-for-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions based on CASE’s fi­nan­cial re­ports.

Boro­choff cited the com­po­si­tion of CASE’s board — stacked ex­clu­sively with Seku­low’s own fam­ily — as “the most con­cern­ing thing.”

“That’s a bedrock prin­ci­ple of non­prof­its, that the board con­sists of in­de­pen­dent peo­ple,” Boro­choff said.

Seku­low’s wife, sons and brother all take salaries from ei­ther one or both of th­ese or­ga­ni­za­tions. In 2014, Seku­low’s brother Gary Seku­low re­ceived $396,008 from CASE and $238,492 from the ACLJ. An As­so­ci­ated Press in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that the Seku­low fam­ily has per­son­ally re­ceived over $33 mil­lion since 1998 via th­ese two char­i­ties. Though Jay Seku­low does not take a salary through the ACLJ, he owns a 50% stake in a law firm that has re­ceived mil­lions of dol­lars from the ACLJ for ser­vices ren­dered, in­clud­ing $5 mil­lion in 2015. (The AP re­port noted that there was no men­tion of Seku­low’s stake in the law firm in the ACLJ’s tax doc­u­ments.)

Seku­low calls him­self a “rea­son­able fa­natic,” though he’s also a con­verted fa­natic: Seku­low, born to a Re­form Jewish fam­ily in Brook­lyn, had a spir­i­tual awak­en­ing at his Bap­tist col­lege in At­lanta. Ac­cord­ing to a tes­ti­mony Seku­low pub­lished on jews­for­je­sus.org, af­ter a friend con­vinced him to read Isa­iah 53, Seku­low be­came con­vinced that Je­sus Christ was the true Mes­siah.

“I kept look­ing for a tra­di­tional Jewish ex­pla­na­tion that would sat­isfy, but found none,” he wrote. “The only plau­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion seemed to be Je­sus.”

Though he re­mains a stal­wart voice of sup­port for Is­rael, and a friend of Ju­daism, Seku­low has taken it upon him­self to cham­pion con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian causes such as de­fund­ing Planned Par­ent­hood and keep­ing “In God We Trust” on U.S. cur­rency.

Seku­low, who served as an ad­viser to Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Mitt Rom­ney in 2008 and 2012, has also spent his ca­reer doggedly fight­ing for re­li­gious exemptions and against “[t]he pen­e­tra­tion of sec­u­lar hu­manism into our ju­di­cial and ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions.” His fight has taken him to the Supreme Court 12 times since 1987.

He has cham­pi­oned the rights of stu­dent groups to show re­li­gious movies on pub­lic school grounds af­ter class, of pro-life pro­test­ers to swarm peo­ple en­ter­ing and leav­ing abor­tion clin­ics and of foot­ball play­ers to pray be­fore their games. In his first case be­fore the Supreme Court he re­ceived a unan­i­mous ver­dict in fa­vor of his clients — Jews for Je­sus pam­phle­teers who had been barred from hand­ing out pam­phlets in the pub­lic ar­eas of Los An­ge­les’s air­port.

Robert­son, the fiery South­ern Bap­tist ex-min­is­ter who un­suc­cess­fully bid for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in 1988, founded the ACLJ in 1990 to lit­i­gate on be­half of con­ser­va­tive Chris­tians. (The name was de­signed to pro­duce a sim­i­lar acro­nym to the ACLU, the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union.) In 1992, Robert­son hired Seku­low as the group’s chief coun­sel.

As Jeff rey Toobin noted in The New Yorker in 2005, Seku­low’s main in­no­va­tion in his Supreme Court cases was ar­gu­ing them as free­dom of speech cases — what Toobin called “in­tel­lec­tual sor­cery”. Un­til Seku­low, re­li­gious ex­pres­sion — like or­ga­nized prayer — had been largely pro­hib­ited in schools and on govern­ment prop­erty un­der the Es­tab­lish­ment Clause — the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state. Though both re­li­gious free­dom and free­dom of speech are di­rectly pro­tected by the First Amend­ment, Seku­low found that ar­gu­ing his cases on the ba­sis of the lat­ter right pro­duced bet­ter re­sults

“I took a lot of heat from peo­ple on my side, who thought I was aban­don­ing the reli­gion clauses of the First Amend­ment,” Seku­low told Toobin. “But I wanted to win the case.”

Since the late ’90s, the ACLJ has ex­panded into Europe, Rus­sia, Africa and South Amer­ica to pro­mote its ul­tra­con­ser­va­tive so­cial agenda. Its Euro­pean arm suc­cess­fully stopped mar­riage equal­ity cam­paigns in the Czech Repub­lic and has lob­bied to stop em­bry­onic stem cell re­search in the Euro­pean Union. In 2012 the ACLJ sub­mit­ted a brief to the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion of Hu­man Rights op­pos­ing a trans­gen­der woman’s right to marry. The group has sup­ported anti­gay pro­pa­ganda in Rus­sia and fights against gay and les­bian rights in Brazil.

In 2009 the ACLJ opened of­fices in Zim­babwe, to “provid[e] le­gal train­ing and le­gal re­search fa­cil­i­ties to at­tor­neys through­out the coun­try.

Mean­while, in Zim­babwe, Jor­dan Seku­low, Jay Seku­low’s son and the co-di­rec­tor of CASE, met with the vice pres­i­dent and other lead­ers of the re­pres­sive dic­ta­tor Robert Mu­gabe’s ZANU-PF po­lit­i­cal party. Hu­man Rights

AP PHOTO

Chris­tian Ad­vo­cate: Seku­low af­ter a 2004 Supreme Court case. He ar­gued for a law to ban com­mer­cial web­sites from putting ma­te­rial ‘harm­ful to mi­nors’ on the in­ter­net.

ACLJ WEB­SITE

Fam­ily Ties: The ACLJ works around the world to op­pose gay equal­ity and abor­tion rights. This ACLJ web­page shows Seku­low’s son, Jor­dan Seku­low, ACLJ’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, dur­ing a mis­sion to Zim­babwe.

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