A pair of veteran white collar lawyers have turned down President Donald Trump’s offer to help lead his defense in the Russia probe, marking another setback for a legal team that’s seen its numbers dwindle over the last week while it prepares for a potentially critical interview between the president and special counsel Robert Mueller.
The law firm Winston & Strawn said Monday night that two of its partners — former federal prosecutors Tom Buchanan and Dan Webb — were approached by Trump but declined the job “due to business conflicts.”
“However they consider the opportunity to represent the president to be the highest honor and they sincerely regret that they cannot do so,” the law firm said. “They wish the president the best and believe he has excellent representation in Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow.”
Trump’s legal team is now led by Cobb, who is handling official White House matters in response to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and Sekulow, a conservative attorney and talk radio host who has been the public face of the president’s outside legal team.
Sekulow declined comment when asked Monday night about the president’s attempt to hire Buchanan, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia, and Webb, a former Reagan-era U.S. attorney from Chicago. Webb led the prosecution of Adm. John Poindexter during the Iran-Contra affair and later served as an independent counsel in 1989 who cleared a George H.W. Bush White House aide of allegations he broke federal ethics laws in failing to repay a $5,000 personal loan.
“We are proceeding with our ongoing cooperation with the Office of Special Counsel,” Sekulow said.
Trump’s legal team has had a rough week. Last week, it lost John Dowd, the president’s longtime lead personal attorney, who resigned after the president tried to hire Joseph diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing.
DiGenova and Toensing had their own problems, and on Sunday, Sekulow cited conflicts of interest as the reason they were not joining the president’s team. The couple are law partners and were already representing two other people in the Russia case: former Trump legal team spokesman Mark Corallo and Sam Clovis, a Trump campaign policy adviser.
But a senior administration official told POLITICO that Trump’s attorneys had pleaded with the president against hiring the couple not just because of the conflicts of interest. There was also concern about their ages (he’s 73, she’s 76), their penchant for extolling unfounded theories, and the president was turned off because they looked disheveled when they came to meet with him last week.
DiGenova is a former federal prosecutor who served as an independent counsel to investigate whether aides to President George H.W. Bush violated federal law by searching Bill Clinton’s passport files during the 1992 presidential campaign.
Trump has been getting informal legal advice from his longtime personal attorney Marc Kasowitz, a New York-based attorney who originally led the president’s Russia response but stepped down last summer.
Officially, the legal team also consists of about five White House aides who are helping Cobb and four attorneys with ties to Sekulow’s nonprofit, the American Center for Law & Justice: Emory law school senior lecturer Mark Goldfeder; Stuart Roth, a longtime legal partner and a Mercer University law school classmate; former federal prosecutor and Georgia state attorney Andrew Ekonomou; and ACLJ senior counsel Benjamin Sisney.
But Trump lacks an experienced criminal attorney on his personal team, and he’s been gauging interest for weeks from other prominent lawyers. Former George W. Bush Solicitor General Ted Olson recently turned down an offer from Trump, citing conflicts with his law firm.
Olson, appearing on MSNBC on Monday, declined to address the president’s legal situation but said the overall high turnover of staffing at the White House was not helpful.
“I think everybody would agree this is turmoil, it’s chaos, it’s confusion, it’s not good for anything,” Olson said. “We always believe that there should be an orderly process, and of course, government is not clean or orderly ever. But this seems to be beyond normal.”