ATLANTA— Halfway through the DaBaby concert, Drew Findling, a middle-aged lawyer sporting sunglasses and a steel-colored beard, looked at his all-access badge and said to me: “I think this thing will get me on stage. Should we try?”
Well, hell yes, we should. Because I’d never been on stage at a hip-hop show with a criminal defense attorney working for former President Donald Trump. And the opportunity was too rare to pass up.
After all, this was what I’d come to Atlanta to do: Meet Findling, Atlanta’s so-called #BillionDollarLawyer, a legendary figure in the local hip-hop scene now defending Trump from one of his gravest criminal threats. Findling agreed to represent Trump in the Georgia election-meddling probe, a case that could soon erupt into the first-ever prosecution of a former American president. I wanted to know how the man who’d spent years championing progressive causes and representing some of the biggest names in rap—and who had publicly knocked Trump as a “racist” and “pathetic” on Twitter—planned to handle this job.
For the moment, however, it was too loud to talk. So we stood together at a second-floor bar at the back of Atlanta’s Tabernacle auditorium, watching DaBaby throw fistfulls of cash and autographed tennis shoes into the audience, while backup dancers in basketball jerseys twerked.
Findling spent years building a reputation as the premier defense attorney for rap stars in the city he affectionately calls “Hip-Hop Hollywood.” His clients include Cardi B, Migos, Gucci Mane, DaBaby, Waka Flocka Flame, Lil Baby, as well as basketball legends Dennis Rodman and Shaquille O’Neal.
He is known here, as The New York Times noted in 2018, as “the illest,” a “witch doctor,” and a “God in the streets.” This lawyer, who grew up in Long Island and claims to know nothing about music, somehow became the kind of guy who got a shoutout from Gucci Mane at the star’s televised wedding.
Findling seems to bond with his clients at a deeper level than most lawyers do. The day before the DaBaby show, I met up with Waka Flocka Flame, the “No Hands” rapper, in a wood-paneled saloon-style bar in east Atlanta called Manuel’s Tavern. Waka strolled in alone wearing a black bomber jacket that read: “FAKE LOVE / RICH – SEX / FAST MONEY.” He praised “the Drewster” for almost an hour, marveling at his lawyer’s ability to connect with people. He joked that Findling should start a sleepaway camp for defense attorneys to teach his methods.
“He damn near a therapist,” Waka told me. “You can just tell the man got no trickery in his voice.”
Findling’s star-studded Instagram account alone makes him a unique addition to Trump’s legal roster. But the situation is stranger than that: at a moment when American politics have grown unforgivingly tribal, the MAGA God-King Trump and his progressive hip-hop lawyer have teamed up despite clear political differences.
For example: Findling praised Black Lives Matter protesters during the summer of 2020; Trump called the group a “symbol of hate.” When quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled to protest police brutality and racial injustice, and was drummed out of the NFL as a result, Findling hailed the athlete as “the greatest patriot in America today.” Trump called any player who kneeled for the national anthem a “son of a bitch” who should be fired.
Trump oversaw the gutting of abortion protections in the U.S. Afterwards, Findling vowed to “defend anyone prosecuted under Georgia’s anti-abortion law free of charge.”
Findling has directly criticized Trump in the past. In 2018, after Trump insulted the intelligence of basketball star LeBron James on Twitter, Findling shot back: “The racist architect of fraudulent Trump University criticizing Lebron, the founder of a free school for children…. POTUS pathetic once again!”
So I was less surprised to find myself at a rap show with the #BillionDollarLawyer than I had been to learn that Findling agreed to represent Trump at all.
Findling brought his entire law office to check out DaBaby, one of the firm’s clients, as a kind of corporate outing. Before the show, Findling and I dipped backstage and met the rapper in the concrete hallway outside his dressing room. I asked DaBaby about his lawyer.
“He’s the fucking man, you know what I’m saying?” DaBaby said. “He keeps me out here, you know, safe and sound.”
DaBaby called Findling a “mentor.” Before I could find out what he thought about sharing a lawyer with Trump, someone yelled “showtime!” and handlers rushed the performer toward the stage.
“We’ll get you a champagne bottle,” DaBaby told his attorney over his shoulder, waving an imaginary bottle in the air. “If you want to spray the shit like a rock star, do whatever you want to do, man!”
We never got the champagne. Instead, I watched the show with Trump’s lawyer from a rear balcony, until Findling realized DaBaby had given him an all-access badge so privileged it allowed him to get onstage, where he could stand with the hype crew behind the rapper.
I didn’t have that kind of pass. So I drafted behind Findling through the crowd to the stage entrance, where agitated security guards glanced at Findling’s wrist and waved us both through. We joined a dozen others in the back. DaBaby danced and rapped and the crowd went wild. Findling gazed out at the audience and grinned.
The mystery of Findling’s decision to work for Trump goes deeper than adversarial politics. For one thing, unlike plenty of other Trump attorneys, Findling is known for being good at his job.
Many top lawyers balk at working for Trump, even though he’s a former president. Trump has a well-earned reputation for failing to pay his legal bills and generally making his attorneys’ jobs impossible.
Some former Trump lawyers now seem full of disdain for the 45th president. John Dowd, who helped defend Trump from the Mueller investigation, blasted Trump as “a fucking liar,” according to veteran reporter Bob Woodward.
Working for Trump can be dangerous. Just ask Michael Cohen, Trump’s estranged former attorney and so-called “fixer,” who received a three-year prison sentence, partly for things he did on Trump’s behalf. Cohen now hosts a podcast largely devoted to bitter rants about his former boss.
When I reached out to contacts in Atlanta’s legal community to ask about Findling’s reputation, I was repeatedly told that he was the best hire Trump could hope for when facing a criminal probe led by the notoriously tough-minded Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.
Trump’s going to need that kind of help, because Willis’ investigation is closing in fast—and could turn out to be the single greatest legal threat the former president has faced over a lifetime of legal showdowns. In late January, she told a judge that charging “decisions are imminent.”
Willis, a Democrat and daughter of a Black Panther, has led a startlingly aggressive probe into Trump’s attempts to reverse his 2020 election defeat. She empaneled a Special Purpose Grand Jury in early 2021 that subpoenaed testimony from top members of Trump’s inner circle, including Trump’s former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, longtime lawyer Rudy Giuliani, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and GOP Senator Lindsey Graham.
Willis launched her investigation after Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in January 2021. Trump told Raffensperger he wanted to “find” enough votes to allow him to carry Georgia, a key battleground Trump needed to stay in power, even though President Joe Biden won Georgia by 11,779 votes.
“All I want to do is this,” Trump told Raffensperger during their contentious, hour-long conversation on a recorded line. “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.”
Willis has said she’s investigating potential violations of the state’s powerful anti-racketeering law, known as Georgia RICO, which is based on a federal statute originally designed to take down the mafia. The law is commonly used today against street gangs. But Willis has deployed it in creative ways, including against a group of Atlanta teachers accused of boosting their students’ standardized test scores through organized cheating. She’s also used it against famous rappers, including in an ongoing case against Young Thug.
Georgia RICO makes it illegal to use an organization to commit a series of offenses, and carries a five-to-twenty year sentence. In this case, Willis could potentially argue that the organization in question was the Trump campaign, although she hasn’t said what she plans to do.
“The allegations are very serious,” Willis recently told The Washington Post. “If indicted and convicted, people are facing prison sentences.”
Willis’ office has told some 20 people they could be criminally charged, including Giuliani. She gave target letters to all 16 of Georgia’s so-called “fake electors,” who submitted a document to the National Archives wrongfully declaring Trump the winner of the state. (A local judge recused her from prosecuting one of them, Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones, after Willis held a fundraiser with Jones’ Democratic political opponent.)
The Special Purpose Grand Jury submitted a final report to a judge in January, which could recommend charging Trump and others. Willis is now deciding whether to bring the evidence before a regular grand jury and seek an indictment.
If she does, Trump would become the first former U.S. president in history to be charged with a crime. And the stakes of the 2024 election, in which Trump is already running, would suddenly jump even higher: Trump would be running for president while facing a criminal case that could send him to prison for the rest of his life.
An indictment would not force Trump to suspend his campaign, even if he is found guilty and sentenced to prison. And the idea that Trump would back down voluntarily after catching a criminal case contradicts everything he’s done in public life. A criminal charge could even strengthen him politically, for a while, by rallying his supporters to help him win the GOP primary.
The upshot could be a political season unlike any in American history, in which a top presidential candidate undergoes a criminal trial for serious felonies in the middle of the campaign.
And the man responsible for mustering Trump’s defense to this looming threat, after stepping into the center of this strange and volatile moment in American history, was the #BillionDollarLawyer, who was bopping his head beside me to DaBaby’s hit “ROCKSTAR.”
The Odd Job
The morning after the DaBaby show, I met with Findling at his spacious, comfortable home in the Atlanta suburbs. Inside, framed news clippings about Findling and his famous clients hung on the walls next to bright, impressionist portraits of Abraham Lincoln and John Adams.
Findling poured me a cup of coffee and we sat down on an enormous living room couch. I wanted to know why he’d agreed to work with Trump—and whether he had any misgivings about the job.
Findling insisted that his own personal political views played no role in his decision to take the case—and that, from a moral point of view, they never should.
“Ethically, we as criminal defense attorneys have an obligation to represent anybody and everybody,” Findling said. “I don’t say, ‘Oh, you know, you’re a rap star? I don’t represent you. You played in the NBA? I don’t represent you. You’re a Republican? I don’t represent you. You’re the former president? I don’t represent you.’ I don’t do that.”
Findling pointed to the portrait of John Adams, a man he called a role model. Adams, he said, worked as a defense attorney for British redcoat soldiers charged with killing American patriots during the Boston Massacre of 1770.
And any attorney afraid of controversy should pick something easier than criminal defense, he said.
“I’ve been dealing with controversy for 35 years, man,” Findling told me. “The first case that I tried, that I was lead counsel on, was a woman that decapitated her six year old son. I’ve been dealing with controversy since I was 25 years old. It’s not going to stop now. It’s what we do as criminal defense attorneys. Either love it, or you do real estate closings.”
I asked whether Trump has seen his tweets—especially the one where he called Trump a “racist” and “pathetic.”
“I have no doubt that, thanks to my friends in the media, everybody has seen my tweets,” Findling said. “And from 1 to 10, I could care less. Zero. I have a personal life, and I have a professional life.”
I asked if he had any concerns about getting paid by Trump, given the former president’s notorious reputation for refusing to cover his bills. (A robust defense in a lengthy, high-profile case could cost millions.)
“No, I never worry about that,” Findling said, without elaborating.
“He damn near a therapist”
I pointed out that Trump’s other lawyers, like Cohen, had gotten into trouble in the past. Giuliani had even managed to become a target in this criminal probe.
I asked: “Is there any part of you that’s concerned about how you can do this job and stay safe?”
Findling insisted he would not bend the law, or his ethical compass, for Trump or anyone else. Before that happened, he would back away from the case, he said.
“We do everything that we legally, ethically, professionally and morally can on behalf of our clients,” he said. “Any attorney associated with me will never veer off that path. And if anybody wants us to, in any case, then we just choose to no longer be their lawyer.”
Findling agreed to the interview on the grounds that he would not get into the details of the ongoing investigation, which is a standard caveat in the legal world.
But as we spoke, he occasionally drew parallels between his work for famous rappers and Trump.
For one thing, he compared the infamous Trump call to Raffensperger to the lyrics in a rap song—to argue that prosecutors tend to amplify a few words without examining the broader context.
Prosecutors have increasingly leaned into the controversial practice of using rappers’ lyrics against them to support criminal charges—as Willis recently did against Young Thug.
In August, Willis told a press conference: “I think if you decide to admit your crimes over a beat, I’m going use it.” She added: “I have some legal advice. Don’t confess to crimes on rap lyrics if you do not want them used, or at least get out of my county.”
But Findling argued context is crucial—both for rappers ensnared in gang prosecutions, and for a former president having a dispute with a local elections official.
“Prosecutors, first of all, don’t know the first thing about lyrics,” Findling told me. “They’ll take out eight or nine words. They’ll take out something that lasts a few seconds and say, ‘Aha, this is evidence of some wrongdoing.’ In like fashion, no one ever talks about the full 62 minutes. No one ever talks about the surrounding circumstances of those 62 minutes.”
Findling has pointed out that no one charged Bob Marley or Eric Clapton for singing “I Shot The Sheriff,” and no one arrested film director Quentin Tarantino for making Kill Bill. (Last summer, Findling told an interviewer that using lyrics to prosecute rappers is “completely fucking racist. That’s what it is.”)
Findling told me that this broader context would likewise be necessary to understand the Trump-Raffensperger call.
“So just like when these prosecutors don’t look at the full context of music, looking at this phone call, no one’s really looking at the full context,” Findling said. “When we look at the full context, that’s when we realize there is no criminal case. And that’s one of the reasons that we jumped into this case when asked to.”
Findling declined to say more about what that all-important additional information about the phone call might be. In August, however, shortly after he was hired to handle the case, he told Times that the Trump-Raffensperger conversation amounted to an effort to “negotiate a resolution” to a civil legal matter.
The president and the rap game
There’s another link between Trump and famous rappers caught in the Fulton County District Attorney’s sights: The potential for a RICO charge.
I asked Findling about the possibility that Willis could go after Trump with the Georgia RICO statute—the anti-organized crime law. Willis has repeatedly praised the statute, saying the law allows her to paint a more complete picture for the jury.
“RICO is a tool that allows a prosecutor’s office and law enforcement to tell the whole story,” Willis said last summer. “And so we use it as a tool so that they can have all the information they need to make a wise decision. So it’s a tool I continue to use.”
Findling criticized prosecutors for relying on RICO. The law is “completely overused” he said. He compared their reliance on RICO to a baseball player taking steroids. The law makes it easier to wrap people together and convict individuals who would otherwise be difficult to charge, he said.
“This is what your viewers should take into account,” Findling told me. “Any time you hear a prosecutor say, ‘I’m looking at RICO,’ in 2022, that means they have a weak case. That’s what it means. Unequivocally.”
What now remains to be seen is how Findling will manage to control his client if an indictment comes down.
Trump is, of course, notoriously impulsive. In the past, Trump has appeared to treat legal trouble as if it were primarily a public relations problem. He spent years hurling abuse at law enforcement officials from his social media accounts with reckless abandon.
“I have no doubt that, thanks to my friends in the media, everybody has seen my tweets”
If he is indicted, however, this dynamic could change dramatically. A judge might easily order Trump not to taunt Willis online, on penalty of having his bail revoked and going to jail for the duration of his trial. In such a moment, his lawyer’s ability to convince him to act more like a normal, cautious defendant would be crucial.
Defense attorneys often start their representation by giving clients a simple, early piece of advice—one that happens to be completely out of character for the 45th president: To shut up.
That task may be more than Findling, or any other lawyer, can manage.
Follow Greg Walters on Twitter.