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

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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Trump pick to head VA in trouble as Senators postpone hearing

Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2018 @ 11:03 AM

President Donald Trump’s decision to elevate the White House physician to lead the Veterans Administration was in peril on Tuesday, as top Senators in both parties announced that a confirmation hearing set this week for Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson would be ‘postponed until further notice,’ as the Senate requested all documents on “allegations or incidents” involving Jackson since 2006.

“We take very seriously our constitutional duty to thoroughly and carefully vet each nominee sent to the Senate for confirmation,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), the Chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee, and Sen. John Tester (D-MT), the top Democrat on that panel.

“We will continue looking into these serious allegations and have requested additional information from the White House to enable the committee to conduct a full review,” the two said in a joint statement.

The move came amid reports from various news organizations that raised questions about Jackson’s stewardship of the White House Physician’s Office.

The delay of the hearing was a major setback for the White House, again raising questions about vetting operations for nominees in the Trump Administration.

Jackson was already facing questions about whether he was the right person to manage the sprawling VA, which has been beset by a series of troubles in recent years.

President Trump fired his first VA chief, David Shulkin, in late March.

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Pompeo nomination clears hurdle after another late GOP switch

Published: Monday, April 23, 2018 @ 10:13 PM

For the second time in a week, late decisions by a pair of GOP Senators provided the margin of victory for a nominee of President Donald Trump, as after fears of a rare confirmation rebuke, Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday got in line behind the nomination of Mike Pompeo to be Secretary of State, setting up a vote later this week for his confirmation in the full Senate.

The key votes were delivered by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) – who last week made a late switch to help salvage the nomination of Mr. Trump’s choice to run NASA – and by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who had talked for weeks that he would never vote to shift the CIA Director over to the post of Secretary of State.

But after a late lobbying effort by President Trump, Paul stuck with the White House on Pompeo.

“I have changed my mind,” Paul said at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Back in March when the President fired Rex Tillerson from the Secretary of State’s job, Paul had made clear he was not going to vote for Pompeo, worried the CIA chief was too set on excessively using U.S. military force around the world.

Labeling Pompeo a “neocon,” Paul had said at the time that he would not vote for the CIA chief, worried that Pompeo was too much like the Republican Party that strongly backed with war in Iraq on Saddam Hussein.

“I simply cannot support Pompeo’s nomination to be our chief diplomat,” the Kentucky Republican made clear.

But after talks with Pompeo and the President, Paul gave in.

The late changes saved the GOP from an embarrassing foreign policy setback for the President – at a time when he is hosting the French President, and will later in the week receive the German Chancellor.

“He is extremely qualified for the position,” the President’s Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders argued for Pompeo, as she joined GOP Senators in reminding Democrats of the bipartisan votes for past Secretaries of State.

“John Kerry was confirmed 94-3. Hillary Clinton was confirmed 94-2. Condoleezza Rice was confirmed 85-13. Colin Powell was confirmed unanimously by voice vote,” Sanders told reporters.

The turn of events came hours after the President had blasted Democrats for delaying many of his nominees, by stretching out debate time on the Senate floor, leaving little time for work on legislation.

While the President accurately nicked the Democrats for slow-walking many nominations on the Senate floor, certain high-profile choices like Pompeo, Jim Bridenstine for NASA, and Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell have been held up in the Senate not because of Democrats – but because of a lack of unity among Republicans.

For example, Grenell’s nomination was sent to the Senate floor back on January 18. While Democrats did object to action in March, there has been no effort by Senate Republicans to hold a vote – which likely means there aren’t fifty votes for his nomination.

When Monday began, that was in question for Pompeo as well, but the support of Paul, Flake, and a handful of Democrats, means the President will get his Secretary of State.

“The President deserves to have a Secretary of State that agrees with him or her, in general, on a foreign policy direction,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), as he argued for Pompeo’s approval.

There was a bit of irony, as Rubio last week had been one of the holdouts on the President choice to run NASA – a reminder, that with a 51-49 advantage in the Senate, and the absence of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Republicans can’t afford to lose more than one vote on anything in the U.S. Senate.

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Jim Bridenstine sworn in as new Administrator of NASA

Published: Monday, April 23, 2018 @ 3:12 PM

Ending almost fourteen months of temporary leadership at NASA, Republican Congressman Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma was sworn in Monday afternoon as the new leader of the space agency, as Trump Administration officials vow that Bridenstine will help revive manned space exploration efforts by the United States.

After taking the oath – with his wife and three children at his side – Bridenstine told NASA employees that he was committed to seeing that the U.S. remains the world’s leader in space.

“I will do my best to serve our storied agency to the utmost of my abilities, as we reach for new heights, as we reveal the unknown for the benefit for human kind,” Bridenstine said.

“NASA represents what is best about the United States of America,” Bridenstine added.

“We lead, we discover, we pioneer and we inspire. I look forward to our journey together.”

“It’s an important moment in the life of this agency,” said Vice President Mike Pence, who trekked over to NASA Headquarters for the swearing-in, again saying that President Trump is strongly behind a forward-looking NASA.

“We will send American astronauts back to the moon,” Pence said,’ vowing that the Trump Administration will lay the groundwork for travels to Mars.

“And NASA will lead the way,” the Vice President said to applause.

Bridenstine’s nomination was bitterly opposed by many Democrats in the Congress, who bristled at his conservative political views, and questioned his lack of space expertise, which also gave a handful of GOP Senators second thoughts.

But after months of delay, the White House was able to convince Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to vote for Bridenstine, pushing him over the top to a bare majority confirmation vote of 50-49 last week.

Bridenstine inherits an agency which just saw a big boost in its budget courtesy of a recent spending deal in the Congress, as NASA for the first time now has a yearly budget of over $20 billion.

“He will be an excellent leader,” said Rep. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who was one of a handful of lawmakers there for the ceremony.

After the swearing-in and Bridenstine’s remarks, NASA then checked in by video relay with several astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

“I thank you for being part of the vanguard in space,” said the Vice President.

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Omarosa Manigault Newman ‘physically dragged’ from White House, reports say

Published: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 9:57 AM
Updated: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 9:08 PM

Who is Omarosa Manigault Newman

Omarosa Manigault Newman, the “Apprentice” star turned White House aide, was removed from the White House Tuesday night,“physically dragged and escorted off the campus,” according to several news reports.

Manigault Newman announced her resignation on Wednesday, effective next month.

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Update Dec 13, 2017 8:44 PM EST: Manigault Newman's departure came after a dust-up with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, according to White House correspondent April Ryan, who described a "vulgar" exchange on CNN between Manigault Newman and Kelly when the former reality TV star was barred from the president's residence Tuesday night.

The Wall Street Journal confirmed Ryan's account, although the Secret Service denied its agents were the ones that "physically" removed Manigault Newman from the White House.

Original report: White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Manigault Newman’s resignation is effective Jan. 20, 2018, on the one-year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration.
“We wish her the best in future endeavors and are grateful for her service,” Huckabee Sanders said.

Contrary to the White House statement, sources told reporter April Ryan and The New York Times's Yamichi Alcindor that Manigault Newman did not resign. Instead, sources said she was fired Tuesday. 

Manigault Newman serves as the director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison. She previously served as Trump's chief adviser on African-American issues in the White House, according to The Hill.

Manigault Newman was one of Trump's most prominent African-American supporters. The president thanked her in February during an event for African-American History Month, saying that she was "very special."
"I want to thank my television star over here," Trump said at the Feb. 1 event, referencing Manigault Newman's time on his business reality show competition, "The Apprentice."

"Omarosa is actually a very nice person. Nobody knows that, but I don’t want to destroy her reputation. She is a very good person and she’s been helpful right from the beginning of the campaign. And I appreciate it. I really do."

Her exit comes amid an anticipated round of Trump administration official departures headed into the New Year, according to The Associated Press. Last week, White House officials said deputy national security adviser Dina Powell her post will be leaving early next year.

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