Jennifer Jacobs, Justin Sink and Ros Krasny
President Donald Trump is planning to shake up his legal team and is also evaluating options for his communications shop as the FBI and congressional investigations into his campaign’s possible ties to Russia heat up.
The president’s long-time attorney, Marc Kasowitz, will likely be eased into a less prominent role within Trump’s outside legal team, according to a person familiar with the president’s thinking who requested anonymity to discuss Trump’s plans.
Separately, the person said Trump was continuing to evaluate what to do with his beleaguered communications team. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the principal deputy press secretary, is expected to be the administration’s public face for the foreseeable future.
The shift in Kasowitz’s role comes as the White House announced it was hiring veteran Washington lawyer Ty Cobb to oversee its legal and media response to the expanding probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign. Administration officials have said they want someone to enforce discipline in the White House regarding Russia matters.
The White House had been planning for weeks to hire an inside point person to handle Russia matters, easing the burden on legal counsel Don McGahn and his team.
Kasowitz, whose association with Trump goes back decades, isn’t expected to be fired. Still, the apparent decision to limit his role, first reported by Axios, follows a recent pair of damaging ProPublica reports about the New York attorney.
The nonprofit journalism group reported that Kasowitz wasn’t seeking a security clearance despite the Russia case, which involves significant amounts of classified material. It quoted former anonymous employees of the law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres describing the attorney as struggling with alcohol abuse. Kasowitz in response sent a series of profane and threatening emails to an unidentified man who wrote him about the report, only to have those messages turned over to ProPublica.
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Kasowitz, said Sunday’s characterization by the White House official of efforts to diminish Kasowitz’s role were “not true,” and didn’t match what he’s been hearing about the president’s legal strategy.
Prospects for White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer are also unclear. His contentious clashes with reporters at the briefing-room podium became regular fodder for late-night comedians, and he’s not held an on-camera press briefing since June 20. Spicer didn’t accompany the president on his recent trip to France, while Sanders rode with Trump aboard Air Force one.
The move to a behind-the-scenes role isn’t seen as an indication that Reince Priebus, who worked alongside Spicer at the Republican National Committee and advocated his hiring as press secretary, is in jeopardy. Rumors have swirled regularly that Trump is considering replacing his chief of staff, particularly as efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare have struggled on Capitol Hill.
But the president has repeatedly assured Priebus that the chatter he’s about to be replaced is false, said the person familiar with Trump’s thinking.
Spicer and Priebus both have been involved in interviewing possible additions to the communications and press team, although some candidates have been reluctant to enter an administration whose first six months have been defined by chaos and a contentious relationship with the media.
The president, who has relished in making the news media his foil, launched a fresh attack Sunday as a new opinion poll from the Washington Post and ABC News showed falling approval ratings in the sixth month of the president’s term, and new details were revealed about his campaign’s payments to a law firm later revealed to be representing Donald Trump Jr.
“With all of its phony unnamed sources & highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting, #Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country,” Trump told his almost 40 million Twitter followers.
Ratings ‘Not Bad’
The poll showed Trump’s approval rating at 36 percent, down six points from a survey taken after his first 100 days. The president closest to that level after six months in office was Gerald Ford, at 39 percent, in February 1975.
Trump tweeted that “even though almost 40% is not bad at this time, was just about the most inaccurate poll around election time!”
About 63 percent of those polled said it was inappropriate for Trump’s son, son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort to have met with a Russian lawyer offering information on Democrat Hillary Clinton. Six in 10 also think Russia tried to influence the campaign, and among those who say so, 67 percent think Trump aides helped, similar to results in April.
Trump defended his eldest son and namesake, who he said “is being scorned by the Fake News Media.” On Saturday, quarterly Federal Election Commission disclosures revealed a $50,000 payment made by Trump’s campaign to the law firm now working for Trump Jr. in the matter the 2016 meeting with the Russian lawer.
The president has been at at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, since Friday evening and plans to spend part of Sunday watching the U.S. Women’s Open golf tournament for a third day before returning to Washington.
The White House is hopeful that Trump can shift attention to his domestic agenda upon his return. The administration will be launching a series of theme weeks designed to highlight his efforts to increase U.S. economic growth.
The effort will kick off with “Made in America” week, during which the president plans to highlight companies that build products in the U.S. On Monday, the administration has invited firms from all 50 states to show their locally-made wares at the White House. On Wednesday, Trump plans to call on U.S. companies to increase production at home. He’s also is expected to travel to Virginia for the commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier set for July 22.
“For too long our government has forgotten the American worker,” White House spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré told reporters in a call on Sunday. Those workers, she said, will now be “championed” by Trump.