Have you spent any time watching cable news over the past few months?
Then you may have noticed a familiar face on the TV screen. That would be the mug of John Fishwick Jr., former US Attorney for the Western District of Virginia.
When the producers of “Dan Abrams Live” on NewsNation in January wanted an expert to discuss classified documents found in President Joe Biden’s former office, they turned to Roanoke’s longtime attorney. (He has also appeared on Abrams satellite radio show at least four times.)
The Justice Department is investigating a series of classified documents found in President Joe Biden’s former office, and Republicans have already said they will investigate the matter. John Fishwick, former US Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, says the discovery of the documents will give Attorney General Merrick Garland a “stickier goal” when deciding whether to prosecute former President Donald Trump in the Mar-a-Lago case ” create.
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Fishwick, 65, told Abrams the discovery of Biden documents could complicate any potential federal criminal case arising from other unrelated classified documents the FBI found during last year’s search of Mar-a-Lago. This is former President Donald Trump’s residence in Palm Beach, Florida.
In September, Fishwick appeared on MSNBC at least twice during prime time to talk to host Alex Wagner about the quest for Mar-a-Lago. (She replaced Rachel Maddow in the Tuesday-Friday 9 p.m. timeslot.)
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These followed an August appearance on CNN with host Poppy Harlow on the same subject.
Earlier this month, when Fox Business needed an expert to discuss the double murder trial of a prominent South Carolina ex-lawyer, its producers also turned to Fishwick.
Speaking on Fox Business’s 8 p.m. show Kennedy, Fishwick predicted that defendant Alex Murdoch’s testimony in his own defense strengthened the murder case against him. (Fishwick was proven right; the jury in the week-long murder trial spent less than three hours deliberating before finding Murdoch guilty of shooting his wife and son.)
In previous appearances on Kennedy, Fishwick offered his thoughts on the November massacre of four college students in Moscow, Idaho, and the collapse of cryptocurrency exchange FTX.
“It was great to be on their shows. I really enjoyed it,” Fishwick told me on Wednesday. The aspect he enjoys most, he added, is taking complicated legal issues and “turning them into something people can understand.”
Locally, Fishwick has made other waves.
During the autumn he was in this newspaper and on local television and news websites campaigning to have the Richard H. Poff name removed from the Franklin Road Federal Courthouse. Poff was a former Roanoke congressman who supported racial segregation and opposed the Civil Rights Act.
Fishwick wants the building to be renamed after pioneering civil rights attorney Rueben Lawson. In January, the Roanoke City Council passed a resolution calling for the federal government to change the name.
On the ground, a number of observers have noted Fishwick’s new and sudden notoriety. That has fueled speculation that he may be courting it for future political ends. When I asked him directly if that was the case, Fishwick deftly changed the subject.
“This is an extension of something I’ve done my whole life,” he said. “I love being a lawyer and speaking about these cases.”
Next, I asked him if he was considering running for Virginia Attorney General, a post he briefly sought the Democratic nomination for in 2008. Fishwick coyly avoided this question as well.
“There are a lot of things I could do,” he replied. “I don’t exclude anything from my life.”
Fishwick said he did not court national media attention. Rather, interest in him as a cable news guest seemed to grow organically after the New York Times quoted him about the Mar-a-Lago search last summer.
“I think that triggered it,” Fishwick said.
After that, a producer from CNN called Fishwick to appear on screen with Poppy Harlow. Then MSNBC started calling, as did Fox Business and NewsNation. Suddenly, Fishwick seemed to be becoming a popular voice when it came to explaining sensational and high-profile American crimes.
Why are you calling Fishwick?
He offered two possible explanations for this. The first, he said, is “the big dogs don’t have to have answered their cell phones.” (He said he gets — at most — a few hours head start on the segments he’s appeared in.)
The second concerns recent advances in video technology such as Zoom. They made it a lot easier to get on TV out here in the backcountry. Fishwick can do this from home or the office instead of driving to a television studio.
“I think one of the great things that Zoom has done for us is that you can be in Roanoke, Virginia and be on live TV with someone in New York or wherever,” he said.
Though Fishwick is a longtime Democrat, he does not convey overtly political messages. Clips of him on YouTube show no thunderous denunciations from one party or shrill defenses from another. He mainly sticks to the legal analysis of nuts and bolts.
“I try to do it in an impartial way,” Fishwick said. “I just call them what I see them.”
A case in point was his Dec. 13 appearance on Kennedy to discuss the collapse of FTX and possible criminal charges against Sam Bankman-Fried, the cryptocurrency exchange’s founder. (The show’s host, Lisa Kennedy Montgomery, goes by her middle name. She got her national TV start DJing on MTV back when Fishwick was in his 20s.)
Fox Business headlined this segment, “Sam Bankman-Fried Stealed Investors: John Fishwick.” Fishwick then called Bankman-Fried an “incredible schemer.”
Here’s what Fishwick said:
“Well I think the most serious charge he faces is, you know, he swindled and stole from these small investors across the country, people who put their savings there, hundreds and hundreds of these people, and he just stolen from them, plain and simple.
“And I think that’s what draws the most attention from the Justice Department. Obviously there are other investors who have lost millions and millions of dollars. But it is the average person who has been so damaged by this incredible schemer.”
At one point, Fishwick seemed to suggest that Bankman Fried could cut a deal with prosecutors and hit on someone else to reduce his future prison sentence.
Kennedy replied, “Who is he turning on?”
Fishwick found that the alleged con artist made $40 million in political donations in the last election cycle. (Three-fourths of that went to the Democrats, by the way.)
“One of the charges concerns these political gifts, donations,” Fishwick said. “But I think the bigger game with the posts isn’t just that you didn’t play by the rules when you gave money to politicians. Did you expect to get something in return from the politicians? Or did you get something in return from the politicians?
“I find it interesting that these charges are included in this early indictment. This signals to me that the DOJ is looking for higher charges related to possible political corruption.”
Federal prosecutors recently issued a substitute indictment against Bankman-Fried suggesting they are considering the case as Fishwick announced in December.
One prediction he was proven wrong with, however, is that Bankman-Fried would never get bail. He did so on December 22nd. The alleged scammer and his parents posted a $250 million personal acknowledgment bail obliging Bankman-Fried to live with them in California.
Doesn’t matter. “Roanoke, Virginia” was in the bottom corner of this screen, and others that Fishwick recently showed. It puts us on the map and, at least briefly, in the attention of the rest of the nation.
“I see this as an incredibly fun and unusual thing,” Fishwick said. He also added, “It’s great for Roanoke.”
Contact Metro columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter:.
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