President Donald Trump's longtime attorney, Marc Kasowitz, has stepped down from leading the president's legal team representing him during inquiries into Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential race. The president's legal counsel has been reshuffled as special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe has intensified.
On July 20, Kasowitz took on a reduced role in the White House defense team. The New York-based lawyer had represented Trump for 15 years, notably defending him during a fraud lawsuit filed against Trump University.
On July 13, Kasowitz sparked controversy when he sent a crude response to an anonymous critic who called on him to resign.
"I'm on you now," Kasowitz wrote to the critic in an email, according to ProPublica. "You are f***ing with me now Let's see who you are Watch your back, b***.... Don't be afraid, you piece of s***."
Washington, D.C.-based lawyer John Dowd will lead the White House legal team against the federal and congressional inquiries into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials. Dowd had previously represented Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and is most renowned for the Major League Baseball probe that prompted the downfall of former Cincinnati Reds' manager Pete Rose, according to Reuters.
On July 15, the White House hired special counsel Ty Cobb to corral the legal defense against any potential allegations from the Mueller probe. Cobb is a former federal prosecutor, a white-collar defense lawyer.
"I think of [Cobb] as a genuinely nice man who, in this case, has a lot of prior experience that will be relevant to how to run a war room in the White House," legal analyst Michael Zeldin told CNN.
The reshuffling of the White House legal team occurred just as Mueller's probe began to heat up. On July 20, a source familiar with the investigation asserted that Mueller's investigators were scrutinizing Trump's previous business transactions with Russian nationals, according to Bloomberg.
On July 19, Trump stated that he considered his business empire off-limits in the Russia investigations.
"No, I think that's a violation," Trump told The New York Times. "Look, this is about Russia ... I have no income from Russia."
The president declined to state whether he would fire Mueller for probing his businesses "because I don't think it's going to happen."
On July 21, sources familiar with the White House legal team asserted that the president's lawyers were examining ways to discredit Mueller by alleging conflicts of interest within his team, The Washington Post reports.
"The fact is that the president is concerned about conflicts that exist within the special counsel's office and any changes in the scope of the investigation," said Jay Sekulow, a member of the president's legal team. "The scope is going to have to stay within his mandate. If he's drifting, we're going to object."
Trump was also reportedly asking his advisers if he had the power to grant pardons to family members and himself. An anonymous White House adviser asserted that the talks were theoretical, and "not in the context of, 'I can't wait to pardon myself.'"
Constitutional law expert Brian C. Kalt of Michigan State University noted it was not constitutionally clear if a president could pardon himself of a crime. If Trump were to pardon himself, Kalt said, "There is no predicting what would happen."
Former Department of Justice spokesman Matt Miller of the Obama administration expressed alarm over reports that Trump's legal team was allegedly searching for ways to discredit Mueller, citing concern that the president was planning to fire the special prosecutor.
"I think it's clear that he will not let this investigation run its natural course without interfering in some fashion, and that is going to provoke a massive crisis for his presidency and the country," Miller told Business Insider.