U.S. President Donald Trump. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Conflicts Prevent diGenova From Joining Trump's Legal Team

(Bloomberg) -- The husband and wife legal team of Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing will not be joining President Donald Trump’s personal legal team representing him in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation after a determination that their firm’s existing work presents a conflict.

“The President is disappointed that conflicts prevent Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing from joining the President’s Special Counsel legal team,” Jay Sekulow, counsel to the president, said in a statement. “However, those conflicts do not prevent them from assisting the President in other legal matters. The President looks forward to working with them.”

Sekulow’s statement came hours after two tweets early Sunday morning by Trump saying he is happy with his existing legal team and that bringing on any new lawyers could take months and more money.

“Many lawyers and top law firms want to represent me in the Russia case,” he wrote in one tweet, declaring as “fake” any reports suggesting he was having trouble finding lawyers to hire. “Fame & fortune will NEVER be turned down by a lawyer, though some are conflicted,” the president wrote, without mentioning diGenova or Toensing by name.

DiGenova’s conflicts do not prevent him from continuing his media advocacy for Trump or against the investigation.

Legal Team Strategy

The announcement last week that diGenova was joining the legal team raised questions about Trump’s strategy, given his choice of a former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia who also is a Fox News personality and has railed against the FBI and the Mueller investigation.

Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, who advocated Trump’s cooperation with Mueller, resigned after diGenova’s hiring was announced. The decision to hire diGenova, who Trump has seen on TV and liked, was done hastily and with little consultation, said a person familiar with the matter, and questions about diGenova’s firm’s conflicts arose immediately.

Sekulow said last week that diGenova’s addition to the legal team was subject to an “ongoing process of conflict review” as is standard ethics practice for lawyers. Toensing already was representing other clients involved in Russia investigations, including the president’s former campaign aide Sam Clovis and Mark Corallo, a former spokesman for Trump’s legal team.

Corallo told Mueller that in a phone call with the president and his confidant and senior adviser Hope Hicks, Hicks insisted the president’s son Donald Trump Jr.’s emails would “never get out,” a source said. Hicks has publicly denied this. The conflict is an issue Mueller could have raised, which could present an issue if a case were to go to trial and Corallo were a witness.

More broadly, Trump at this time now appears unlikely to try to bring in another outside lawyer, and the departure of Dowd essentially leaves Sekulow charting the legal strategy. From the start, Sekulow and his staff of lawyers at the American Center for Law and Justice have done much of the work of reviewing documents and shaping the legal argument.

While Sekulow is best know as a defender of religious liberties, he has a strong background in constitutional law, and a key part of Trump’s defense will be the constitutional powers and protection of the president. He has not shied away from attacking the Justice Department’s investigation, using his radio show to criticize the FBI’s handling of the investigation.

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