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Whose side are you on? Separate lawyers defend Trump, aides

Published: Monday, July 17, 2017 @ 6:38 PM
Updated: Monday, July 17, 2017 @ 6:38 PM


            FILE - In this June 8, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump's personal attorney Marc Kasowitz, speaks at the National Press Club in Washington. As the federal and congressional Russia probes mount, a growing cast of lawyers is signing up to defend President Donald Trump and his associates. But the interests of those lawyers don’t always align, adding a new layer of uncertainty to a White House rife with internal rivalries. Trump will continue to work with the outside legal team representing his personal interests: Jay Sekulow and Kasowitz. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
FILE - In this June 8, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump's personal attorney Marc Kasowitz, speaks at the National Press Club in Washington. As the federal and congressional Russia probes mount, a growing cast of lawyers is signing up to defend President Donald Trump and his associates. But the interests of those lawyers don’t always align, adding a new layer of uncertainty to a White House rife with internal rivalries. Trump will continue to work with the outside legal team representing his personal interests: Jay Sekulow and Kasowitz. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

As the government's Russia investigations heat up, a growing cast of lawyers is signing up to defend President Donald Trump and his associates. But the interests of those lawyers — and their clients — don't always align, adding a new layer of drama and suspicion in a White House already rife with internal rivalries.

Trump himself has both an outside legal team and a new in-house special counsel, Ty Cobb, for Russia-related matters. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who is also Trump's son-in-law, has a pair of high-powered attorneys working for him. The president's son, Donald Trump Jr., recently hired his own lawyer. And former campaign aides who expect to be caught up in the expanding probes are also shopping for representation — and dealing with sticker-shock over the price tags.

The result is a crowded group of high-priced attorneys bent on defending their own clients, even if it means elbowing those clients' colleagues.

"Any one of those individuals can anticipate that they will be in a position to provide information adverse to any of the other individuals," said Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor and legal ethics expert. "They have to have their own lawyer."

The diverging interests began to emerge more clearly during last week's fallout over a June 2016 meeting with a Russian attorney that both the president's son and his son-in-law attended during the heat of the presidential campaign. Legal teams for the president, Trump Jr. and Kushner all discussed the matter before the meeting was first reported by The New York Times. But the lawyers couldn't agree on a single, public explanation for the meeting and ultimately settled on a statement that had to be repeatedly amended as new information dripped out.

On Monday, Alan Futerfas, the attorney for the president's son, said Trump Jr. had been "absolutely prepared" to make a "fulsome statement" about how the meeting was arranged and what discussions took place. He did not respond to questions about why the initial statement about the matter, which was seen by the president, lacked some of those details.

The job of coordination was especially challenging because the lawyers couldn't always speak freely about what they knew, out of concern for attorney-client privilege, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. With each new disclosure that followed, the lawyers tweaked their public statements — and anxiously speculated over who in the group was disclosing the damaging information to the media.

People with knowledge of the legal wrangling insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

In Trump's inner circle, a group long split into factions, the potential for fueling other officials' legal difficulties could be high.

It's all going to get even more complicated as both Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and three separate congressional probes gather steam. Kushner is expected to talk to the Senate intelligence committee soon, and Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley wants to summon Trump Jr. for testimony.

The president and his son have both tried to downplay last year's meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya.

"Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That's politics!," the president tweeted Monday.

But emails about the meeting that were released by Trump Jr. rattled some White House advisers, particularly his enthusiastic response to being told directly that the attorney had damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton that was being provided by the Russian government.

Last week's revelations helped prompt the president to bolster his own legal defense. He hired Cobb, an experienced white-collar attorney, who is slated to join the White House staff on July 31, according to Cobb's law firm. Cobb is expected to play a public role, crafting official White House responses to developments.

His hiring came with an acknowledgement that the current arrangement wasn't working. Trump's personal lawyers were supposed to take the pressure off the White House to respond to Russia inquiries. But it's become untenable for the West Wing staff to keep punting questions about the president.

"We end up spending a lot of time talking to the counsel's office about what can and can't be referred to outside counsel, what still remains in our purview," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday. Spicer said he did not believe Cobb had vetted the president's tweet on Monday.

Trump will continue to work with the outside legal team already representing his personal interests: Jay Sekulow, a frequent television commentator, and New York-based attorney Marc Kasowitz, whose unconventional style has left some aides to the president unimpressed.

Kasowitz and Sekulow don't work out of the White House, though both are there on occasion for meetings with the president. Sekulow made multiple appearances at the White House last week as the controversy over the meeting with the Russian lawyer unfolded.

The expanding legal teams come at a cost.

The Trump presidential campaign has spent almost $1 million on legal fees since the beginning of the year, according to a campaign finance report filed Saturday with the Federal Election Commission. That includes a $50,000 charge for the law firm of Alan Futerfas, who is representing Trump Jr. The payment was made nearly two weeks before news reports about the younger Trump's Russia meeting.

A large chunk of the campaign's legal expenses are for Jones Day, White House Counsel Don McGahn's former employer. The firm has continued to represent the campaign for standard services affiliated with any political committee. But Jones Day's fees more than doubled in the most recent quarter, compared to the first three month of the year, the FEC reports show, a period that coincides with the deepening Russia quagmire.

Several former campaign advisers who expect to have to testify before Congress are also hiring lawyers, but they're picking up the cost themselves. The House intelligence committee had planned to interview longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone and campaign digital director Brad Parscale before the August recess, but both interviews have been delayed.

Michael Caputo, another former campaign aide, met with House lawmakers last week and says he expects to testify again in front of senators and potentially Mueller's team. Caputo is being represented by former New York State Attorney General Dennis Vacco, and said he's liquidating his children's college funds to pay the bills.

Asked about the campaign money covering Don Jr. and other folks' legal fees, he responded: "Lucky for them. And unlucky for me. And unlucky for my children who are now going to community college."

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AP writers Eric Tucker, Jill Colvin and Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

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Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC, Julie Bykowicz at http://twitter.com/bykowicz and Eric Tucker at http://twitter.com/ETuckerAP

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Donald Trump brands North Korea's Kim Jong Un with new nickname – 'Rocket Man'

Published: Monday, September 18, 2017 @ 3:30 AM

North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile Over Japan

President Donald Trump has never been shy about giving his opponents nicknames — “Crooked Hillary,” “Lyin’ Ted,” “Crazy Bernie,” “Goofy Elizabeth Warren,” “Low-energy Jeb” and “Little Marco” all immediately come to mind — and now North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has his own Trump moniker.

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“Rocket Man” is the latest of Trump’s derisive epithets.

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On Sunday morning, Trump launched Kim's new nickname into cyberspace.

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“I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night. Asked how Rocket Man is doing. Long gas lines in North Korea. Too bad!” Trump tweeted.

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The “Rocket Man” nickname is a clear jab at Kim Jong Un’s now semi-regular missile launching over Japan.

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The most recent launch happened Thursday. North Korea has fired at least 21 missiles since February 2017 in 14 missile tests.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin asked to use government plane for honeymoon

Published: Thursday, September 14, 2017 @ 11:39 AM

In this Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, file photo, then Treasury Secretary-designate Stephen Mnuchin and his then-fiancee, Louise Linton, arrive on Capitol Hill in Washington, for the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump. Linton responded to a social media critic on Aug. 21, 2017, telling the mother of three that that she was
In this Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, file photo, then Treasury Secretary-designate Stephen Mnuchin and his then-fiancee, Louise Linton, arrive on Capitol Hill in Washington, for the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump. Linton responded to a social media critic on Aug. 21, 2017, telling the mother of three that that she was "adorably out of touch."€ Mnuchin and Linton were married in June. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP, File)(Saul Loeb/AP)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin inquired about using a government jet for his European honeymoon after marrying Scottish actress Louise Linton in June, officials confirmed Wednesday in a statement.

The request was later deemed to be unnecessary, a Treasury Department spokesman said.

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Mnuchin asked about using a government plane in an effort to ensure that he had access to secure communications while on his honeymoon, according to the Treasury Department.

“We have multiple issues around the world where the secretary is directly involved in national security, notably North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, among others,” a department spokesman said. “It is imperative that he have access to secure communications, and it is our practice to consider a wide range of options to ensure he has these capabilities during his travel, including the possible use of military aircraft.”

Another way to provide Mnuchin with access to secure communications was instead found, and the Treasury Department deemed his request to be unnecessary, officials said.

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Critics slammed Mnuchin’s request, characterizing it as another example of the treasury secretary attempting to use tax payer dollars to fund personal travel. Also under scrutiny is a trip he and his wife made last month to Kentucky in which a government plane was used.

“You don’t need a giant rule book of government requirements to just say (to) yourself, ‘This is common sense, it’s wrong,’” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, told ABC News on Wednesday. “That’s just slap-your-forehead stuff.”

 Politico reported that requests to use military jets for personal travel are unusual, but not unprecedented.

“Such trips can cost tens of thousands of dollars to operate per hour,” according to the news site. “Treasury secretaries tend to fly on commercial airlines but have used government planes for overseas work trips.”

Mnuchin, a wealthy, former Goldman Sachs banker, was criticized last month after he and his wife took a government jet to fly to Kentucky. Linton posted a photo to Instagram after the trip in which she promoted the high-end designer brands she wore while disembarking the government plane.

>> Treasury secretary's wife mocks 'adorably out of touch' critic on Instagram 

The Treasury Department is reviewing the flight to determine whether any ethical violations were made, The New York Times reported

A Treasury Department spokesperson told The Associated Press last month that Mnuchin and Linton are reimbursing the government for the cost of Linton’s travel and added that she was not given compensation for promoting the luxury brands on Instagram.

Some critics suggested Mnuchin and Linton traveled to Kentucky to get a better view of the solar eclipse, Politico reported, although Mnuchin has denied the allegation. He said that he was in the state, which was in the path of totality for the eclipse, for meetings on tax reform, according to Politico.

In a statement released to the Times, Richard Delmar, counsel to the inspector general, said, “We are looking at all requests for use of government aircraft.”

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U.S. Rep. calls Texas 'no' votes on Harvey relief 'unconscionable'

Published: Monday, September 11, 2017 @ 4:50 PM

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, left, speaks during a news conference with other members of the Texas delegation about the emergency funding bill for Harvey relief efforts, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, left, speaks during a news conference with other members of the Texas delegation about the emergency funding bill for Harvey relief efforts, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, on Monday described as “unconscionable” the vote last week of four Republican colleagues from Texas against a $15.25 billion initial aid package to help state residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

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“I don’t want to judge them,” McCaul said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I judge myself and my conscience and when I have people dying and hurting in my home state, it was my duty and my moral obligation to help them, and I felt that that vote was a vote of conscience to help people in my state and also now in Florida.”

“I think that’s what Americans do and I think it’s unconscionable to vote against something like that,” McCaul said.

The four Texans — Reps. Joe Barton, Jeb Hensarling, Sam Johnson and Mac Thornberry — were among 90 Republicans who voted against the House’s concurrence with the Senate’s larger relief package Friday. None of the four represents districts affected by Harvey.

Republican opponents complained that the aid was linked to a three-month lifting of the debt ceiling.

“I think having to raise the debt ceiling was the issue, and the fact is that Mick Mulvaney is the director of OMB and he was a Freedom Caucus guy when he served with us, and he told us point blank that you could not appropriate disaster relief if you didn’t raise the debt ceiling, so we were stuck with that choice,” McCaul said. “What do you (do) with that choice? Just stand on principle and vote ‘no?’ And I question that principle. Or do you vote to help people back in your home state who are hurting really badly?”

Asked if he expected a competition with Florida for federal disaster help because of Hurricane Irma, McCaul said, “I don’t think you’re going to see some Texas vs. Florida thing. This is going to be an American issue and, if anything, it will bring the Texas and Florida delegations together for that funding.”

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Microsoft pledges to protect 'dreamer' employees

Published: Tuesday, September 05, 2017 @ 5:18 PM

Microsoft President Announces Company's Plan To Support 'Dreamers'

Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer pledged in a blog post Tuesday to protect the company’s employees who were brought to the country illegally when they were children, even as federal officials announced the end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA.

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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that the program -- which protects, on a temporary basis, certain immigrants brought to the country illegally as children -- was an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.” The program was created in 2012 with an executive order by then-President Barack Obama in response to Congress’ failure to act on immigration reform.

>> Full transcript: Sessions announces end to DACA immigration program 

In a blog post shared shortly after Sessions’ announcement, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said that the company was “deeply disappointed by the administration’s decision.”

“We believe this is a big step back for our entire country,” Smith wrote.

He urged lawmakers to focus on solving the issue of what to do with the roughly 800,000 people who fall under the DACA program, writing that debates over tax reform should be pushed back in favor of addressing immigration reform.

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“We say this even though Microsoft, like many other companies, cares greatly about modernizing the tax system and making it fairer and more competitive,” Smith wrote. “But we need to put the humanitarian needs of these 800,000 people on the legislative calendar before a tax bill.”

He said the company is aware of 39 so-called “dreamers," named for the stalled Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act or “DREAM Act,” who work for Microsoft. The DREAM Act offered many of the same protections as DACA but was never approved in Congress.

“If Congress fails to act, our company will exercise its legal rights properly to help protect our employees,” Smith said. “If the government seeks to deport any one of them, we will provide and pay for their legal council. We will also file an amicus brief and explore whether we can directly intervene in any such case.

“In short, if Dreamers who are our employees are in court, we will be by their side.”

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Smith said that, as an employer, Microsoft recognized that DACA recipients “add to the competitiveness and economic success of our country and the entire nation’s business community.”

He highlighted that those eligible for the DACA program were brought to the country when they were children and grew up in America.

“They attended our local schools and count millions of American citizens as friends,” Smith wrote. “They obey our laws, pay taxes here and have registered voluntarily with the federal government for DACA relief. They are loyal to this country and contribute their time and money to local churches, schools and community groups. The Dreamers are part of our nation’s fabric. They belong here.”

In the wake of Tuesday’s announcement, lawmakers said they planned to again review the DREAM Act. The act passed the House of Representatives, but it stalled before the Senate in 2011.

Jeff Sessions Says Trump Administration To End DACA Plan