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Lawyer Denies Spat Over Russia Probe -- WSJ

22 Jul 2017 6:32 am
By Peter Nicholas 

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (July 22, 2017).

An attorney for President Donald Trump praised the work of prosecutors involved in the Russia investigation and disputed the notion that the White House or Mr. Trump's legal team was working to discredit or short-circuit the special counsel probe.

John Dowd, one of the main outside lawyers representing Mr. Trump in the Russia investigation, said in an interview Friday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been doing "a good job" and can be trusted to carry out a fair investigation.

"The communications are honest and professional and helpful," Mr. Dowd said. "We've been helpful to him and he's been straight with us. He's an honest guy and he's done a good job."

The Washington Post on Thursday reported that Mr. Trump's legal team is discussing the president's authority to issue pardons that could potentially derail the Russia probe. Mr. Dowd denied the report. "It's not true," Mr. Dowd said.

Mr. Dowd's comments suggest a split within the Trump legal team and the White House about the best way to respond to the special counsel probe.

Mr. Trump and some of his lawyers have taken a more combative stance. They have questioned whether Mr. Mueller and the prosecutors he has hired have conflicts of interest. And they have cautioned that the Mueller team must avoid venturing into parts of Mr. Trump's life and career that go beyond the special counsel's mandate.

Mr. Mueller's mandate includes looking into possible collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign team in the 2016 election, along with matters arising "directly from the investigation," according to the Justice Department order in May announcing the special counsel's appointment.

Mr. Trump has said there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia, and has called questions about campaign associates' Russia ties a "witch hunt." The U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 election but Moscow has denied any interference.

Mr. Trump said earlier this week that Mr. Mueller would be exceeding his authority if he looked into his or his family's personal finances. Asked by the New York Times if such a move would cross a red line, Mr. Trump responded: "I would say yes."

Jay Sekulow, another member of the Trump legal team, said late Thursday that Mr. Mueller's probe should stay focused on its core mission and not veer off into other directions.

"The special counsel's investigatory activities are limited by his mandate. And looking at a real estate deal from 10 years ago would exceed that mandate," Mr. Sekulow said, referencing a Bloomberg article that said Mr. Mueller is looking into Trump business deals dating back years.

He also said the legal team could look at potential conflicts of interest.

"Conflict of interest issues, if they arise, will be addressed in due course through the normal legal channels if we get to that stage. Any lawyer would look at potential conflicts."

A spokesman for Mr. Mueller's office declined to comment.

People close to Mr. Trump have questioned whether the prosecutors are impartial, pointing to campaign donations some have made Democratic candidates. At least seven members of Mr. Mueller's team have given to Democratic candidates, including to the presidential campaigns of former President Barack Obama and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Kellyanne Conway, former campaign manager and now White House counselor, in an appearance on "Fox and Friends" Friday morning, said the donations were indicative of the prosecutors' political leanings.

"People should know what folks' pasts and their motivations and their political motivations are, these weren't minor donations. ... These were significant donations by members of that team. They clearly wanted the other person to win," she said. "Now, whether that prejudices them one way or the other in the investigation remains to be seen."

Mr. Mueller, for his part, made two contributions in 1996 to Republican William Weld, then a candidate for a U.S. senate seat in Massachusetts, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics.

Mr. Dowd, in the interview Friday, dismissed the notion that the Trump team would try to undercut the special counsel's investigation by highlighting what it sees as conflicts of interest.

"We're not interested in that," he said. "We all know him and we're not interested at all in that kind of collateral nonsense."

Asked if he is concerned that Mr. Mueller might dip into areas that are far afield, he said: "Bob knows where he is going and he's been very straight with us. We have a fair idea of where he's going."

One person close to the president said that he has advised Mr. Trump to cooperate with Mr. Mueller and work toward a speedy resolution of the Russia probe.

Mr. Trump has rejected the advice, he said.

The president's "instincts on this are that when you get pushed you, double down, and when you get pushed again, you triple down."

Write to Peter Nicholas at peter.nicholas@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 22, 2017 02:32 ET (06:32 GMT)

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