In a dramatic shakeup of President Trump's personal legal team, chief counsel Marc Kasowitz stepped aside after the president expressed deep concern for the expanded scope of the special Justice Department inquiry into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Prominent Washington criminal lawyer John Dowd said Friday that Kasowitz, Trump's longtime and mercurial personal attorney, will remain as an adviser to the team. Dowd is now heading the team with assistance from frequent Trump defender Jay Sekulow.
"We decided to go in a different direction,'' Dowd told USA TODAY. "As you go along, you just make adjustments. I'm just the lead guy now. There are no negatives here. Marc will still be advising us. We're carrying forward.''
Both Dowd and Sekulow were existing members of Trump's personal Russia team but will now take on additional responsibilities. Ty Cobb, recently appointed as a special White House counsel and point-person for the Russia inquiry within the administration, is expected to begin work July 31.
Meanwhile, the public face of Trump's outside legal team also abruptly changes with the resignation of spokesman Mark Corallo.
Corallo, a longtime Republican operative who was once considered a candidate for the White House press secretary job, had expressed frustration with the communication strategy related to the outside legal effort.
The moves come as the president earlier this week injected yet more chaos into his young administration, warning special counsel Robert Mueller — who is heading the FBI's Russia investigation — that the financial activities of the Trump family were outside the scope of the inquiry. In a pointed interview with The New York Times, Trump also said he would not have nominated Jeff Sessions as attorney general had he known Sessions would recuse himself from the inquiry because of his undisclosed communications with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Sessions' recusal and Trump's abrupt dismissal of FBI Director James Comey prompted the appointment of Mueller, who has signaled — with the addition of money laundering and financial fraud experts to his staff — that his inquiry will likely include a deep exploration of the Trump family's financial ties to Russia.
Trump and his legal team have long sent warning shots to Mueller, challenging the scope of his authority and questioning the political leanings of his staff even while saying that they have had no indication that the special counsel is investigating the president.
Mueller has been investigating whether the president obstructed justice in connection with Comey's firing, which Trump said was related to the director's handling of the Russia investigation.
On Friday, Dowd forcefully defended the president's position, saying that he also believed that an investigation of the Trump family finances were outside the scope of Mueller's authority.
"The president is concerned,'' Dowd said. "He has a right to express himself. I don't think he (Mueller) should go there. And I really don't think he has expanded his investigation.''
Dowd also supported Trump's criticism of Sessions, saying that the attorney general's decision to recuse himself from the Russia inquiry was "nuts.''
"I'm ashamed of him (Sessions),'' Dowd said. "He panicked.''
Sessions, appearing at an unrelated press briefing Thursday, said he intended to remain on the job, for now, despite Trump's searing criticism. The new comments by Dowd, now serving as Trump's chief outside counsel, only appeared to turn up the heat on the attorney general.
"The president was right. If Sessions was going to recuse himself, he never should have taken the job,'' the attorney said.
Dowd also denied reports that the president and his advisers were exploring Trump's authority to grant pardons to his family, and possibly himself, related to the Russia investigation.
The development was first reported late Thursday by The Washington Post.
"There has been no discussion of a pardon, no research of any pardon,'' Dowd said. "If there was, we would know about it. The story is false.''
Another primary complaint of the Trump legal team: Some of Mueller's people had made contributions to the Clinton campaign or performed work for the Clinton Foundation.
"I think it's clear that the president is frustrated by the continued witch hunt of the Russia investigation, and he'd love for this to come to a full conclusion so that everyone can focus fully on the thing that he was elected to do,'' White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
In the New York Times interview, Trump said Mueller should not have been appointed special counsel, and asserted that an investigation of his finances would amount to a "violation'' of Mueller's authority.
"Look, this is about Russia,'' Trump said in the interview.
Asked whether he would fire Mueller for delving into the family's finances, Trump said: "I can't answer that question because I don't think it's going to happen.''
Dowd said the legal team had no objection to Trump's assertions in the interview.
"No one has more right to express himself than President Trump,'' Dowd said. "He doesn't need this crap.''