President Trump Seems To Be Struggling To Find Replacements For His Legal Team

Mar 28, 2018
Originally published on March 28, 2018 7:39 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Nothing about Donald Trump's White House is serene, and that chaos extends to his legal team. Over the past week, some attorneys have left the fold. The president seems to be struggling to find replacements, but based on his Twitter feed, he is not worried about it. On Sunday, he tweeted (reading) many lawyers and top law firms want to represent me in the Russia - many lawyers and top law firms want to represent me in the Russia case. Don't believe the fake news narrative that it is hard to find a lawyer who wants to take this on. Fame and fortune will never be turned down by a lawyer, though some are conflicted.

All right. With us to talk more about this is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So this revolving door has been getting quite a workout. Can you just bring us up to date on the big changes among President Trump's lawyers?

JOHNSON: John Dowd is a prominent white-collar lawyer in Washington who had been running point on President Trump's legal defense in the Russia investigation. And John Dowd left last week. He says, for the record, he loves the president and wishes him well. Privately, we're hearing he was unhappy Trump wasn't always taking his advice and also a little disgruntled because Donald Trump wanted to hire some other Washington lawyers to join the team. But it turns out those lawyers, Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, are not going to be working for President Trump on Russia after all. Their small law firm represents several witnesses in the Russia probe, and that could pose some conflicts of interest if those people's witness accounts conflict with what Donald Trump or his relatives have to say.

CHANG: OK. So then who's in charge now if those attorneys are no longer on the Russia case?

JOHNSON: Yeah, good question. For now, it's Jay Sekulow, who's been defending Trump on television for months. He's best known for his work on religious liberty cases, not major criminal investigations or counterintelligence investigations. And Jay Sekulow has got some lawyers working with him, not the usual suspects from D.C. or New York. Other prominent lawyers President Trump has approached have said no for one reason or another over the last weeks and months, either because their law firms have conflicts, they're already representing people or banks caught up in this probe.

But there's also this - Donald Trump tweets whatever and whenever he wants. He insists he wants to talk to investigators, and according to some lawyers I talked to, there's some concern in the legal community about whether Donald Trump will actually pay his legal bills if he racks them up.

CHANG: Really? Well, with all this turnover on the president's legal team, what does that mean for the other side, for the side of special counsel Robert Mueller?

JOHNSON: I checked today with the special counsel's office. There's been no change there at all. Seventeen prosecutors are working for the special counsel. These are experts in money laundering and conspiracy, cybercrime, national security - the smartest man in the government, according to many people in the Justice Department, who advises on appellate issues, Michael Dreeben, James Quarles, who worked on Watergate, and, of course, led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller. Remember, Ailsa, Steve Bannon, the former adviser to President Trump, has called these prosecutors killers who have a demonstrated record of investigating big cases, getting to the bottom of corporate fraud, mob schemes and terrorism.

CHANG: OK. Can you also just catch us up on the latest in the actual investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election? What is happening there?

JOHNSON: Kind of a grab bag of stuff.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign chairman, is seeking to get conspiracy and money laundering and tax fraud charges thrown out. He says the special counsel has gone far afield of his mandate. Meanwhile, today, The New York Times is reporting a lawyer for Donald Trump last year was discussing possible pardons for Manafort and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. That's not a big surprise because the president himself said last year we'll see what happens with respect to a pardon for Mike Flynn. Lawyers for Flynn had no comment about a pardon today. And at the White House, the press secretary says pardons are not currently being discussed there.

CHANG: All right. That's NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thank you.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.