Donald Trump suggested on Sunday that he was not about to hire a new lawyer to represent him in “the Russia case” following a shake-up of his legal team.
And he claimed that many lawyers and “top law firms” wanted to work for him.
“Don’t believe the Fake News narrative that it is hard to find a lawyer who wants to take this on,” the president cautioned. “Fame & fortune will NEVER be turned down by a lawyer, though some are conflicted.”
He added: “Problem is that a new … lawyer or law firm will take months to get up to speed (if for no other reason than they can bill more), which is unfair to our great country – and I am very happy with my existing team.”
Attorney John Dowd quit Trump’s legal team on Thursday, days after what appeared to be the hiring of Joseph DiGenova, a cable news commentator and former US attorney who has claimed that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election is an attempt to frame the president, carried out by the FBI and the Department of Justice.
A few days earlier Dowd – who has been key to molding Trump’s legal defense in the special counsel’s Russia’s investigation – had called for Mueller’s investigation to be shut down. After initially suggesting he was speaking for Trump on the matter, he later walked that back.
On Sunday Jay Sekulow, another of Trump’s lawyers, said DiGenova would not be joining the legal team after all.
“The president is disappointed that conflicts prevent Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing from joining his Special Counsel legal team,” Sekulow said. “However, those conflicts do not prevent them from assisting the president in other legal matters.”
DiGenova and Toensing are married to each other and law partners.
Trump’s attorneys, including Dowd, have been negotiating with Mueller over the scope and terms of an interview with Trump. In his tweets on Sunday from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, Trump added that “there was NO COLLUSION with Russia, except by Crooked Hillary and the Dems!”
The president’s comments were reminiscent of his remarks earlier this month in response to claims of staff unhappiness that “everybody wants to work in the White House”.
“They all want a piece of that Oval Office, they all want a piece of the West Wing,” he claimed. “I have a choice of anybody. I could take any position in the White House and I’ll have a choice of the 10 top people having to do with that position.”
Economic adviser Gary Cohn quit shortly afterwards. National security adviser HR McMaster resigned two weeks later. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also left the administration, although he was fired.
On Sunday Trump also defended his decision to sign a $1.3tn federal spending bill despite his misgivings, pointing to billions in new funding for the military and national security.
Since grudgingly signing the bill on Friday after threatening a veto, Trump has faced fierce criticism from conservatives who have accused him of caving to congressional Democrats.
The president said on Friday at the White House he was “very disappointed” in the package, in part because it provided only $1.6bn – rather than the $25bn he is seeking – for his planned wall on the Mexican border.
But Trump said he had “no choice” but to sign because the nation needed to fund the military.
Looking on the bright side on Sunday, the president said that “much can be done with the $1.6 billion given to building and fixing the border wall. It is just a down payment.”
He added: “Work will start immediately. The rest of the money will come.”
However, the bill’s $1.6bn for border security is not authorized to be used on the imposing concrete wall prototypes Trump recently viewed in California. The bill specifies that the money should be used for 14 miles of “secondary fencing” near San Diego, 25 miles of “primary pedestrian levee fencing” and “primary pedestrian fencing” in the Rio Grande Valley, and is only available for designs “deployed” before this year, “such as currently deployed steel bollard designs”.
Trump seemed to spend Saturday at his golf club and apparently headed there again on Sunday. He did not comment personally on the hundreds of thousands of protesters who massed on Washington on Saturday, although the White House put out a statement praising their right to free speech.
The Associated Press contributed to this report