WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s roster of attorneys representing him in the Russia probe changed again on Sunday, with the announcement that two new attorneys brought on last week would not be hired after all.
Trump’s personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, in a statement to reporters, announced that the president had decided against taking on Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, days after their hiring was announced. Sekulow cited possible conflicts of interest as the reason.
“The president is disappointed that conflicts prevent Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing from joining the president’s special counsel legal team,” Sekulow said. “However, those conflicts do not prevent them from assisting the president in other legal matters. The president looks forward to working with them.”
The news of Trump’s decision, first reported by The New York Times, came hours after the president, in a pair of Sunday morning tweets, dismissed as “fake news” reports that his legal team had been struggling to recruit and retain top lawyers.
John Dowd, one of Trump’s personal attorneys, resigned last week, following diGenova and Toensing’s hiring. The Russia probe team is now left with two attorneys — Sekulow and White House Attorney Ty Cobb — at a time when Special Counsel Robert Mueller is said to be seeking to interview the president about possible ties between his campaign and Russia in the 2016 election.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, who represented George W. Bush in the landmark 2000 Bush v. Gore presidential election case, turned down an offer to join the team.
Trump, who spent the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, pushed back on reports of turmoil and high turnover, arguing on Twitter that hiring a new lawyer or law firm could pose a problem because it “will take months to get up to speed.”
“Many lawyers and top law firms want to represent me in the Russia case . . . don’t believe the Fake News narrative that it is hard to find a lawyer who wants to take this on,” Trump tweeted. “Fame & fortune will NEVER be turned down by a lawyer, though some are conflicted.”
DiGenova’s hiring was widely viewed as a move by Trump to shift his legal strategy from cooperating with the special counsel to being more combative with Mueller. DiGenova, a former federal prosecutor, previously alleged on Fox News that the Russia probe is part of a “brazen plot” by a secret group of FBI agents looking to “frame” the president with a false crime.
Toensing’s representation of Mark Corallo, a former spokesman for Trump’s legal team, may have played a factor in the president’s decision to change course. Corallo has alleged he left his job because he believed a statement regarding the Russia probe reportedly drafted last year by the president and his outgoing Communications Director Hope Hicks, aboard Air Force One, may have obstructed justice. Hicks has denied the allegations.
Trump also took to Twitter to defend signing off on a $1.3 trillion federal budget that he previously threatened to veto. The president initially said he would reject the bipartisan budget plan because it only included $1.6 billion of the more than $20 billion he requested for a southern border wall, but signed the spending bill on Friday.
The president on Twitter argued that he signed the budget because it provided for an uptick in military spending to “rebuild our Military,” and could ease the way for work on the border wall.
“Much can be done with the $1.6 Billion given to building and fixing the border wall. It is just a down payment,” Trump tweeted on Sunday. “Work will start immediately. The rest of the money will come.”