By Karen Freifeld
(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will not hire two lawyers to his legal team handling the special counsel’s probe despite announcing their addition last week, Trump’s personal lawyer said on Sunday, adding to uncertainty about the president’s legal representation in the Russia investigation.
“The president is disappointed that conflicts prevent Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing from joining the president’s special counsel legal team,” Jay Sekulow said in a statement. “However, those conflicts do not prevent them from assisting the president in other legal matters. The president looks forward to working with them.’
The announcement came nearly a week after Sekulow said diGenova would join the legal team handling Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 presidential election.
The quick reversal is likely to add to the perception that Trump’s legal representation is in disarray as his lawyers have been negotiating the terms of a possible interview with the president.
Trump’s lead lawyer in the special counsel investigation, John Dowd, resigned Thursday.
“Many lawyers and top law firms want to represent me in the Russia case…don’t believe the Fake News narrative that it is hard to find a lawyer who wants to take this on,” Trump tweeted on Sunday.
Trump has denounced the investigation as a “witch hunt.” Russia denies meddling in the election.
DiGenova has appeared on Fox News accusing the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Justice Department of trying to frame Trump with false charges of colluding with Russia during the campaign.
Trump wanted to hire diGenova after seeing him on television, but the conflicts were obvious, said a person familiar with the matter, who added that it was surprising that consideration for adding diGenova to Trump’s team had gotten so far.
“We thank the president for his confidence in us and we look forward to working with him,” on other matters, Toensing said in a statement on behalf of both her and diGenova. The married pair work together at their namesake law firm.
Toensing declined to comment on what specific conflicts may have led to the work on the Russia legal team falling through.
DiGenova & Toensing has represented Mark Corallo, a former spokesman for Trump’s legal team, and Sam Clovis, a former campaign aide.
Corallo was the spokesman for Trump’s outside lawyers until last summer, when he resigned during another legal team shake-up.
Since then, Corallo has spoken with Mueller about what he viewed as a false statement dictated by Trump from Air Force One about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York City that included several Russians, according to a person familiar with the matter. That meeting was attended by Trump’s son, Donald Jr.
Clovis, a former Pentagon official, was a campaign supervisor who wrote “great work” in an email after Trump’s foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos discussed efforts to broker a meeting between the campaign and Russian leaders.
Corallo told Reuters on Friday that he had signed a waiver of potential conflicts last week.
Clovis could not be reached for comment, but a person familiar with the matter said appropriate waivers had been signed.
DiGenova was at the White House on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the meeting.
Trump has had trouble finding outside lawyers to assist him in the Russia probe.
Major firms such as Williams & Connolly and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher turned him down in the last year, citing conflicts, people familiar with the matter have told Reuters.
Trump representatives have reached out to some of those firms again more recently, sources said.
(Reporting by Karen Freifeld in New York; Writing by Dustin Volz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)