Last week's departure of John Dowd, one of President Trump's main legal advisors, has left the president and his associates struggling to fill holes in his Russia investigation defense team. Although he's scouring the capitol, Trump can't seem to find a lawyer, CNN reports. In fact, his official team is down to just two members: Jay Sekulow and Ty Cobb. Here's why the president is having such a difficult time getting new recruits.
One of the biggest reasons is reportedly the same one that led Dowd to resign: Trump would rather follow his own instincts than listen to his attorneys' advice. Dowd reportedly did not want the president to testify before Special Counsel head Robert Mueller because he was afraid that Trump might lie under oath, The New York Times reported. Despite this, Trump has many times stated that he is willing to be interviewed by Mueller (and has continued to insist this since Dowd's departure).
Many attorneys would rather not sign up with a client they cannot control. CNN reported that Ted Boutrous is one of the people Trump courted and that he quickly declined the offer. Boutrous wouldn't directly explain his reasoning for doing so, but did note that Trump is a "notoriously difficult client who disregards the advice of his lawyers and asks them to engage in questionable activities."
Another often-cited reason for refusing to represent Trump is conflicts of interest. CNN reports that many D.C. firms have clients who are somehow tied up with Mueller's far-reaching investigation. Although the probe was initially intended to investigate potential collusion between Russians and the Trump campaign, Rod Rosenstein's 2017 order also gave Mueller the authority to look into "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation." The probe has led to many indictments for financial crimes that are not directly related to collusion, drawing in a particularly wide range of companies and witnesses in D.C.
The firm Winston & Strawn declined Trump on Tuesday for this reason, saying that they "were unable to take on the representation due to business conflicts." They added their regrets, however, and noted that "they consider the opportunity to represent the President to be the highest honor." Winston & Strawn represents a Ukrainian oligarch who formerly did business with Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager who has been indicted by Mueller for money-laundering.
There's also the fact that working with the president can damage lawyers' reputations. Philip West, chairman of the Steptoe & Johnson firm that refused Trump, said as much to CNN: "With a figure who is as polarizing as the President, it makes the decision about whether to represent him a more difficult one." A former partner of Ty Cobb, one of the two people remaining on Trump's legal team, told Politico recently that he wanted Cobb to leave the job. He said that Cobb was "not helping himself or his reputation."
Despite this struggle to find representation, the Trump administration insists that the process is going smoothly and that they are happy with the president's legal defense. During a press briefing on Tuesday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Trump "has a highly qualified team."
Trump is also pushing that narrative. "Many lawyers and top law firms want to represent me in the Russia case," he said Tuesday in an early-morning Twitter rant, continuing: "don't believe the Fake News narrative that it is hard to find a lawyer who wants to take this on. Fame & fortune will NEVER be turned down by a lawyer, though some are conflicted."
"Problem is that a new lawyer or law firm will take months to get up to speed (if for no other reason than they can bill more), which is unfair to our great country," he added, "and I am very happy with my existing team."
If that were true, perhaps Trump would stop soliciting so many new lawyers.