Alina Habba said she'll withdraw from representing Donald Trump in E. Jean Carroll's rape claim, according to a court filing.
But Joe Tacopina, Trump's new lawyer, told Insider she'll be staying on - just not as the lead counsel.
Habba told Insider she continues to be dedicated to Trump.
Donald Trump's go-to attorney Alina Habba and her law partner Michael Madaio said they plan to withdraw from representing the ex-president in a pending rape lawsuit against him, court filings show.
The communication comes in a case filed by the writer E. Jean Carroll, who alleges Trump raped her in the changing room of the Bergdorf Goodman department store in the 1990s. On Tuesday, the defense attorney Joe Tacopina joined Trump's defense team as it heads to a likely trial, court records show.
Roberta Kaplan, an attorney representing Carroll, said in a Tuesday letter that Habba's firm "told us that they intend to withdraw from this case, leaving Mr. Tacopina as sole counsel."
In an interview with Insider Wednesday, Tacopina said Habba and Madaio are "not withdrawing from the case" and that Kaplan was "under the wrong impression."
"I'm not replacing her," Tacopina said. "I'm coming in as lead lawyer on the case to try the case."
In a statement provided to Insider, Habba told Insider she was dedicated to representing Trump in court.
"While I appreciate the left-wing media's attempt to fabricate any story to fit their narrative, I am so happy to have Joe step in and assist," Habba told Insider. "I handle a half a dozen cases for the President and there is no one more in the President's corner outside of his family than I am."
Tacopina's hiring comes two weeks after a federal judge in Florida sanctioned Habba and Trump in a separate case and fined them $1 million.
In that Florida lawsuit, Trump alleged Hillary Clinton, then-FBI Director James Comey, and a number of Democratic party officials colluded to jumpstart the Justice Department investigation into his connections with Russia and swing the 2016 election in Clinton's favor. Trump won the 2016 election.
US District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks dismissed the case and lambasted Trump and Habba for "using the courts as a stage set for political theater and grievance."
Following the sanctions order, Habba withdrew a separate lawsuit pending before the same Florida judge alleging New York Attorney General Letitia James targeted Trump for political reasons. James is suing Trump and the Trump Organization in a New York state court for $250 million, alleging they conducted financial fraud by lying about property values to evade taxes.
Habba is also representing Trump in the New York attorney general's case, and it's not going well: James is seeking sanctions against her for "meritless" answers to the attorney general's lawsuit, including claims that the Trump Organization does not actually exist as a legal entity and is simply a branding shorthand. The judge overseeing the case previously held Trump in contempt of court for refusing to sit for a deposition.
Habba didn't show up in court for a hearing Wednesday morning about James's sanctions claim. Madaio, her law partner, declined to explain why she wasn't present.
"She just couldn't be here," Madaio told Insider.
Carroll has filed two lawsuits against Trump. Trump hasn't made any changes to his legal team in Carroll's first lawsuit, which is a defamation case over Trump calling her a liar. An appeals court is currently deciding whether to allow that suit to move forward. Trump's lawyers and the DOJ are fighting to have Trump removed as a defendant in the case based on a federal law shielding public employees from being personally sued for actions on the job.
The changes in Trump's legal team are for Carroll's second lawsuit, where in which the writer accuses Trump of rape. Tacopina has experience with high-profile cases, including representing the Washington Commanders NFL team and Natalee Holloway's suspected killer Joran van der Sloot, and working with celebrity clients like A-Rod and rappers Meek Mill and A$AP Rocky.
It's common for parties in a lawsuit to bring on new lawyers as a case heads to trial, but that doesn't always mean the earlier attorneys will withdraw from the case, or cede the lead counsel position to someone else.
Tapocina said the facts in dispute in both of Carroll's lawsuits are identical, and that he may end up defending both cases.
"At the end of the day, it's the same damn trial, right? It's whether or not this happened," Tacopina told Insider, adding: "If it happened, then it's defamation. If it didn't happen, it's not defamation."
Roberta Kaplan, the attorney representing Carroll, wrote in a letter filed to court Tuesday that "this late-stage substitution of counsel is yet another tactic to attempt to delay the proceedings."
Habba denied she was trying to slow down the case but asked the judge for a conference to discuss "scheduling-related issues," she wrote in response.
Correction: February 1, 2023 - An earlier headline for this story failed to attribute the claim that Alina Habba planned to withdraw from Donald Trump's defense in E. Jean Carroll's rape case to Carroll's attorney Roberta Kaplan. This story has also been updated with comments from Joe Tacopina disputing the claim that Habba plans to withdraw.
Laura Italiano contributed reporting.