U.S. President Donald Trump’s lawyers are reviewing ways to limit or undermine the special counsel investigation of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including by examining the backgrounds of the investigators, according to newspaper reports.
The efforts were reported late on Thursday by The Washington Post and The New York Times, which cited unidentified people familiar with the strategy.
One Trump attorney, John Dowd, told Reuters the reports of the research effort were not true. “We think he’s a straight, honest guy,” Dowd said of special counsel Robert Mueller. Another lawyer, Jay Seklow, told the Times that addressing possible conflicts of interests would be appropriate but declined to comment on the specific reported effort.
Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the Russia probe, one of those people told the Post. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers.
Mueller was named by the Justice Department in May to probe alleged Russian interference in the election and potential collusion by Trump’s campaign. He was cleared for the role by the U.S. Department of Justice’s ethics experts.
Trump has long expressed frustration with a probe that he has called a political witch hunt. He alluded to efforts to limit it an interview with the New York Times on Wednesday in which he warned Mueller against investigating his and his family’s finances, which he said are unrelated to the Russia investigation.
The Republican president also hinted at possible conflicts of interest involving Mueller. “There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point,” he told the Times.
The White House has also looked at using an ethics rule to weaken Mueller’s efforts.
U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives intelligence panel, called Trump’s comments about Mueller disturbing.
“There is no doubt that Mueller has the authority to investigate anything that arises from his investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, including financial links,” Schiff said in a statement.
The House intelligence committee is among several congressional panels investigating the Russia issue alongside Mueller’s probe. Moscow has denied any interference with the election. Trump has said there was no collusion.
Separately, the spokesman for Trump’s legal team, Mark Corallo, confirmed his resignation from the team on Friday. His departure coincides with other changes on the team. Veteran Washington lawyer Ty Cobb has been hired to handle the Russia probe.
Media reports have said lead attorney Marc Kasowitz will take on a reduced role. A source familiar with the situation told Reuters on Friday that Kasowitz had not left the team.
Trump is considering appointing Wall Street financier and longtime supporter Anthony Scaramucci as his White House communications director, according to a senior White House official.
(Reporting by Mark Hosenball and Karen Freifeld; Writing by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry)