Trump Shakes Up Legal Team in Face of Growing Mueller ProbeBy and
Dowd becomes lead attorney; Scaramucci gets communication role
Legal team denies it will highlight Mueller team’s conflicts
President Donald Trump is shaking up his legal team in addition to his communications staff as he seeks to combat an expanding and intensifying Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Attorney John Dowd said he will be the president’s lead lawyer on the issue, while Marc Kasowitz will have a scaled-back role.
The tumult around Trump followed an interview with the New York Times on Wednesday in which the president warned Mueller not to broaden his investigation to his or his family’s businesses. Yet Mueller has already begun examining the businesses, people familiar with the investigation have told Bloomberg News.
While Dowd denied reports that Trump seeks to target potential conflicts of interest on Mueller’s team, such as donations to Democrats by some of his attorneys, senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway accused Mueller’s team of mounting a “witch hunt” against Trump in a Fox News interview on Friday.
“I know Bob Mueller. I trust him and he is an honest man and I think he will call it straight,” Dowd said in an interview.
But on Fox, Conway said that the investigation is “all a hoax” and pointed to campaign contributions to Democrats by some of the lawyers working on Mueller’s staff.
“These were significant donations by members of that team. They clearly wanted the other person to win,” she said. It “remains to be seen” whether they are prejudiced against Trump, she said.
The White House announced July 16 that it was hiring veteran Washington lawyer Ty Cobb to oversee its legal and media response to the expanding Russia probe. Subsequently the former spokesman for Trump’s legal team, Mark Corallo, confirmed that he had resigned. A person familiar with Corallo’s departure said that he had grown exasperated with the White House’s defense strategy and saw Dowd’s elevation as an opportunity to get out.
Corallo declined to discuss his decision.
In the Times interview, Trump said Mueller had “many other conflicts that I haven’t said,” stirring speculation he may consider firing him.
Mueller’s investigation has expanded to examine a broad range of transactions involving the president’s businesses, including dealings by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a person familiar with the probe said. Trump told the Times that if Mueller examined his family’s finances beyond any relationship with Russia he’d consider it “a violation.”
The Washington Post reported Thursday night that Trump’s legal team is exploring ways to question Mueller by building a case that he has conflicts of interest in overseeing the investigation.
The Post also reported that Trump has asked his advisers about his authority to grant pardons to aides, family members or even himself, citing one unidentified person familiar with the matter.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, when asked on Thursday if Trump would try to have Mueller fired, said that “the president has no intention to do so at this time.” At the same time, she said she couldn’t predict what kinds of “outrageous” things Mueller may do in the future that might prompt his firing.
Any such move is likely to face a backlash in Congress. Several Republican senators said Thursday that they don’t believe there is any serious talk about trying to fire Mueller. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said in a Bloomberg interview Friday he will try to rally lawmakers of both parties “to make it clear that firing Bob Mueller without cause, is an attack on our institutions, it’s an attack on the rule of law, it’s moving the country towards a constitutional crisis, and it’s going to be met with real consequences.”
Trump is also revamping his communications operation. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned on Friday after Trump hired financier Anthony Scaramucci as his communications director, adding to the tumult at the White House.
Trump wanted Scaramucci in large part because he wants someone he thinks will be a consistently effective advocate for him in television appearances, said a Republican familiar with the discussion. Scaramucci wouldn’t be as involved in strategic planning for messaging campaigns, the Republican said, the traditional responsibility of a communications director.
— With assistance by Justin Sink, Greg Farrell, Christian Berthelsen, and Kevin Cirilli