WASHINGTON —- Longtime criminal lawyer and former federal prosecutor Joseph diGenova is joining President Trump’s legal team as the president has escalated his criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
The move was confirmed Monday by Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow, who said diGenova would begin work later this week.
“I have worked with Joe for many years and have full confidence that he will be a great asset in our representation of the president,” Sekulow said.
The appointment of diGenova, who himself has offered strong rebukes of the Mueller investigation, likely signals a more aggressive push by Trump’s legal team that had once pledged full cooperation with Mueller’s investigators.
DiGenova has cast the Russia inquiry as “an attempt to frame an incoming president with a false Russia conspiracy.”
In a stinging January interview with The Daily Caller, diGenova accused the top leadership in the Obama Justice Department of “plotting” against Trump.
DiGenova rhetoric rivals the scorched tone of Trump’s weekend tweet storm in which he attacked Mueller directly, asserting that the ongoing investigation was stacked against him. And along with his current lead attorney John Dowd, Trump has called for the investigation to be shutdown.
Ty Cobb, the special White House counsel, however dismissed suggestions that Trump and his legal team were seeking to oust Mueller.
“The White House yet again confirms that the president is not considering or discussing the firing of the special counsel, Robert Mueller,” Cobb said late Sunday, in an attempt to temper concerns about a new effort to remove the special counsel.
Last summer, Trump’s attempt to seek Mueller’s dismissal was thwarted when White House Counsel Donald McGahn threatened to resign.
Any decision to remove Mueller would ultimately fall to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who offered unqualified support for the special counsel in an interview last week with USA TODAY.
“The special counsel is not an unguided missile,” Rosenstein said. “I don’t believe there is any justification at this point for terminating the special counsel.”
Trump’s attacks on the Russia inquiry took on a more harsh and personal tone over weekend, following the late Friday decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, hours before McCabe was eligible to retire.
The president had long and publicly sought McCabe’s ouster before Sessions acted, saying that the deputy director had not been completely truthful with the Justice Department’s inspector general who has been investigating the handling of inquiries related to Hillary Clinton.
Trump and McCabe
McCabe’s firing also was recommended by the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
Trump reveled in the decision, saying that McCabe’s firing was “a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy.”
McCabe fired back immediately after the Sessions’ announcement, rejecting the assertion that he had been untruthful with investigators.
“I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of (FBI Director) James Comey,” McCabe said, referring to Trump’s abrupt dismissal of Comey last year.
The president later told NBC News that he was unhappy with Comey’s handling of the Russia inquiry.
Following the Twitter volley against McCabe, Trump took aim at Mueller, calling out the special counsel by name for the first time while asserting that the investigation had no merit.
Trump’s rhetorical war with McCabe, however, may not be over with the former FBI official’s firing.
Like Comey, McCabe documented his encounters with Trump, according to a person familiar with the matter. It’s unclear how many memos there are and their exact contents, but the notes have been shared with Mueller’s investigators who also are reviewing whether Trump has sought to obstruct the inquiry.
Last summer, Comey acknowledged memorializing his meetings with Trump in a series of memos, including an encounter in which the president asked the FBI director to scuttle the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Flynn has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with the ongoing investigation.
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