President Donald Trump convened his legal team on Thursday to discuss the escalating investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election.
The huddle, according to four people briefed, took place the day after it was announced that former FBI Director Robert Mueller would serve as the investigation’s special counsel.
One White House official said the discussion, which came the day before Trump leaves for his first trip abroad since taking office, centered around the nuts and bolts of how the investigation would work – and how the administration will need to handle the inquiry.
Among those in attendance was longtime Trump Organization attorney Michael Cohen, who came down from New York to attend. Cohen declined to comment when reached Thursday afternoon.
White House Counsel Don McGahn and his team, one official said, is urging the White House – and Trump – to be cautious in its comments with a special prosecutor involved. McGahn has begun explaining to aides in detail about records retention and potential requests, two people familiar with the conversations say.
One objective: to keep Trump from hurting himself any further. Two senior administration officials said they believed Trump’s letter firing Comey was a mistake.
White House spokespeople declined to comment.
The controversy surrounding Russian intervention has completely overtaken the Trump White House. The president has repeatedly denied any collusion. Appearing at a news conference on Thursday, Trump said he respected the decision to appoint a special counsel but then called the investigation a “witch hunt.”
“There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself and the Russians, zero,” he said. “I think it divides the country. I think we have a very divided country because of that and many other things.”
Mueller’s appointment has put the administration in bunker mode – and there is a growing realization, officials say, that life in the administration will grow more difficult in the months to come.
Some aides have begun reaching out to lawyers to see if they need counsel, according to one attorney who has spoken to several of them. This lawyer declined to identify the aides because he said at least two may end up being retained by his firm.