Trump’s Pick for Ambassador to Israel Is Prominent Bankruptcy Lawyer

A weekly news service that publishes case summaries of the most recent important bankruptcy-law decisions, tracks major commercial bankruptcies, and reports on developments in bankruptcy reform in...

By Daniel Gill

David M. Friedman, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to head the U.S. Embassy in Israel, is a prominent New York bankruptcy attorney with decades of experience involving many high-profile cases, including Marvel, Eastman Kodak, MCI WorldCom and more recently, LightSquared.

Two of his colleagues spoke with Bloomberg BNA about Friedman—a partner at Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP in New York—as a litigator, negotiator, problem solver and a representative of the U.S. in the political turbulence of Israel.

Friedman’s partner David Rosner first started working with him at Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander & Ferdon, the former New York “white shoe” firm whose famous alumni include Richard M. Nixon and Lewis “Scooter” Libby. The two moved together to Kasowitz and have worked together for 27 years, Rosner told Bloomberg BNA by phone Dec. 20.

“The guy is absolutely brilliant. He always knew what he wanted to do, knew the big picture,” Rosner said.

Rosner called Friedman a “consummate professional” and praised his “real business sense—knowing when you need to litigate and when to settle.”

Rosner made clear his bias. He said that he “became a bankruptcy lawyer just because of his experience working with David” and his desire to continue to work with the man, whom he called a “mentor and partner par excellence.”

Praise also came from the other side of the table. James H.M. Sprayregen, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Chicago, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 22 that he encountered Friedman many times, in many cases over a span of decades, usually on the opposite side. Sprayregen is a member of the advisory board of Bloomberg BNA’s Bankruptcy Law Reporter.

In one of those cases, Friedman was representing Donald Trump. The two faced off in the bankruptcy case of Conseco, Inc., an Indiana insurance and financial services company, in 2003. They went to arbitration over a joint venture involving the General Motors building in New York, Sprayregen told Bloomberg BNA.

The matter was concluded in a confidential settlement, he said. Referring to Friedman and his client, Sprayregen said that the two clearly had an “excellent relationship” and that it “seemed like Trump had a lot of confidence in his lawyer and looked to him for his professional judgment in that situation.”

He described Friedman as a “highly aggressive advocate” without appearing or acting aggressively. He said Friedman was “very creative at coming up with solutions to complex problems.”

Friedman’s “excellent interpersonal skills” and years of bankruptcy experience “should serve him well both at confirmation hearings and as ambassador,” Sprayregen told Bloomberg BNA. “David is great at off-the-record, behind-the-scenes conversations in highly adverse, hostile situations,” he said.

“I’ve always thought of the Middle East like a big bankruptcy puzzle,” Sprayregen said. Friedman knows how to work the pieces and come up with solutions to such puzzles, he said.

“He’s not a firebrand,” Friedman’s partner Rosner told Bloomberg BNA. “He’s an informed guy who will absorb tremendous amounts of information. He will bring that skill to the job as ambassador.”

“He doesn’t figure out ways to fight so much as ways to resolve conflicts,” Rosner said. “But if you have to litigate, I’d hate to go against David,” he added.

Rosner listed some of the high profile bankruptcy cases in which Friedman was a key player.

  •  LightSquared
  •  Texaco
  •  Marvel
  •  Adelphia
  •  Eastman Kodak
  •  Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP
  •  MCI-WorldCom
And of course, Friedman represented Trump. In addition to the Conseco case, he represented the company that owned three Atlantic City casinos in its 2004 bankruptcy case, and then later represented Trump and his daughter Ivanka individually in the company’s 2009 bankruptcy case involving a legal battle with billionaire Carl Icahn, Rosner told Bloomberg BNA. (See Bloomberg BNA’s Oct. 31 article on Trump’s bankruptcy filings here.) Icahn was recently named as adviser for the president-elect on regulatory matters.

“I’ve been in New York for 27 years doing bankruptcy law. I’ve seen all the big players in all the big cases, and there’s no one better,” Rosner said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Gill in Washington at dgill@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jay Horowitz at JHorowitz@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.