WASHINGTON — As the government's Russia investigations heat up, a growing cast of lawyers is signing up to defend President Donald Trump and his associates. But the interests of those lawyers — and their clients — don't always align, adding a new layer of drama and suspicion in a White House already rife with internal rivalries.
Trump himself has both an outside legal team and a new in-house special counsel, Ty Cobb, for Russia-related matters. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who is also Trump's son-in-law, has a pair of high-powered attorneys working for him. The president's son, Donald Trump Jr., recently hired his own lawyer. And former campaign aides who expect to be caught up in the expanding probes are also shopping for representation — and dealing with sticker-shock over the price tags.
The result is a crowded group of high-priced attorneys bent on defending their own clients, even if it means elbowing those clients' colleagues.
"Any one of those individuals can anticipate that they will be in a position to provide information adverse to any of the other individuals," said Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor and legal ethics expert. "They have to have their own lawyer."
The diverging interests began to emerge more clearly during last week's fallout over a June 2016 meeting with a Russian attorney that both the president's son and his son-in-law attended during the heat of the presidential campaign. Legal teams for the president, Trump Jr. and Kushner all discussed the matter before the meeting was first reported by The New York Times. But the lawyers couldn't agree on a single, public explanation for the meeting and ultimately settled on a statement that had to be repeatedly amended as new information dripped out. The job of coordination was especially challenging because the lawyers couldn't always speak freely about what they knew, out of concern for attorney-client privilege, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.
With each new disclosure that followed, the lawyers tweaked their public statements — and anxiously speculated over who in the group was disclosing the damaging information to the media.
People with knowledge of the legal wrangling insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
In Trump's inner circle, a group long split into factions, the potential for fueling other officials' legal difficulties could be high.
It's all going to get even more complicated as both Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and three separate congressional probes gather steam. Kushner is expected to talk to the Senate intelligence committee soon, and Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley wants to summon Trump Jr. for testimony.
The president and his son have both tried to downplay last year's meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya.
"Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That's politics!," the president tweeted Monday.
But emails about the meeting that were released by Trump Jr. rattled some White House advisers, particularly his enthusiastic response to being told directly that the attorney had damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton that was being provided by the Russian government.
Last week's revelations helped prompt the president to bolster his own legal defense. He hired Cobb, an experienced white-collar attorney, who is slated to join the White House staff on July 31, according to Cobb's law firm. Cobb is expected to play a public role, crafting official White House responses to developments.
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