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Trump shakes up legal team in face of widening Russia probe

Friday - 21/07/2017 21:41
Both lawyers were existing members of Trump's personal Russia team but will now take on additional responsibilities.

In a dramatic shakeup of President Trump's personal legal team, chief counsel Marc Kasowitz stepped aside after the president expressed deep concern for the expanded scope of the special Justice Department inquiry into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, a person familiar with the matter said Friday.

Kasowitz, Trump's longtime and mercurial personal attorney, will remain as an adviser to the team, now being led by John Dowd, a prominent Washington criminal lawyer who will be assisted by frequent Trump defender Jay Sekulow, said the person who was not authorized to comment publicly on the matter. 

Both lawyers were existing members of Trump's personal Russia team but will now take on additional responsibilities. Ty Cobb, recently appointed as a special White House counsel and point-person for the Russia inquiry within the administration, is expected to begin work July 31.

Meanwhile, the public face of Trump's outside legal team also abruptly changes with the resignation of spokesman Mark Corallo.

Corallo, a longtime Republican operative who was once considered a candidate for the White House press secretary job, had expressed frustration with the communication strategy related to the outside legal effort.

The moves come as Trump earlier this week injected yet more chaos into his young administration, warning Russia special counsel Robert Mueller that the financial activities of his family were outside the scope of the Russia inquiry. In a pointed interview with The New York Times, he also said he would not have nominated Jeff Sessions as attorney general had he known Sessions would recuse himself from the inquiry because of his undisclosed communications with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Sessions' recusal prompted the appointment of Mueller, who has signaled — with the addition of money laundering and financial fraud experts to his staff — that his inquiry will likely include a deep exploration of the Trump family's financial ties to Russia.

Trump and his legal team have long sent warning shots to Mueller, challenging the scope of his authority and the political leanings of his staff even while saying that they have had no indication that the special counsel is investigating the president.

Mueller has been investigating whether the president obstructed justice in connection with his firing of FBI Director James Comey. Trump cited Comey's handling of the Russian investigation as the reason for his dismissal in May.

A primary complaint of the Trump legal team: Some of Mueller's people had made contributions to the Clinton campaign or performed work for the Clinton Foundation.

"I think it's clear that the president is frustrated by the continued witch hunt of the Russia investigation, and he'd love for this to come to a full conclusion so that everyone can focus fully on the thing that he was elected to do,'' White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

In the New York Times interview, Trump said Mueller should not have been appointed special counsel, and asserted that an investigation of his finances would amount to a "violation'' of Mueller's authority.

"Look, this is about Russia,'' Trump said in the interview.

Asked whether he would fire Mueller for delving into the family's finances, Trump said: "I can't, I can't answer that question because I don't think it's going to happen.''

Read more:

White House: Trump still has confidence in Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Trump suggests the FBI director reports directly to the president. Here's how it really works

Analysis: Trump isn't changing, and that's both good news and bad news for his agenda

 Key: Russia

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