Politics

Kasowitz Steps Back As Trump Legal Team Reconfigured

Reuters/Keith Bedford

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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President Donald Trump is reconfiguring his legal team after reports that special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election has expanded to include Trump’s business transactions.

The staff shuffle reflects the administration’s desire to run Trump’s legal operation from Washington, as well as his lead counsel’s ongoing personal and professional struggles.

Marc Kasowitz, a longtime Trump associate charged with leading the president’s defense, will assume a peripheral role on the president’s team in favor of John Dowd and Jay Sekulow. Where Dowd and Sekulow are seasoned in the distinctive craft of Washington law practice, Kasowitz has made a career specializing in complex commercial litigation in New York — an able representative for a real estate mogul, but perhaps not an embattled president.

Administration sources told CNN that Kasowitz’s primary task was to assemble Trump’s team, and that a longterm leadership role was never part of his mandate. They also said that White House aides concluded the president’s defense should be coordinated from Washington (Kasowitz is based in Manhattan). The trajectory is a familiar one for an administration composed of New Yorkers, many of whom — including Trump himself — have been reluctant to abandon Manhattan for the nation’s capital.

The adjustment, however, is not merely logistical, as Kasowitz has struggled to command respect inside the White House.

His first public remarks as the president’s personal attorney received a chilly reception among Trump aides. A transcript of his statement was replete with misspellings and factual inaccuracies, while Kasowitz himself presented a somewhat awkward figure before reporters. He struggled to make eye contact while giving his statement, and hurried towards elevators as soon as he concluded his remarks. He lingered for several moments by the elevator bank, flanked on all sides by reporters, before realizing he had not pressed a button to summon an elevator.

He also appeared to lack finesse in balancing the various legal constituencies of the administration. He told White House aides in June that they did not need to retain personal counsel at this stage of the investigation, to the chagrin of other administration lawyers. Such advice would typically come from White House Counsel Don McGahn, who was not consulted before Kasowitz’s directive.

He also told associates he had convinced the president to dismiss former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, New York’s top federal prosecutor, as part of a broader purge of Obama-era officials at the Department of Justice. Personnel decisions at the Justice Department fall well beyond the purview of the president’s personal counsel.

A series of Pro Publica reports raised the prospect that Kasowitz would not qualify for a security clearance, given his previous work with Kremlin-aligned clients and his alleged struggle with alcohol abuse.

All told, Kasowitz’s position has been precarious from the moment he was tapped for his post by the president.

A spokesman for Trump’s lawyers, Mark Corallo, also abruptly resigned Thursday night.

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