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Trump brings in Giuliani as court action heats up

Rudy Giuliani (right) is the newest addition to President Donald Trump’s legal team. | Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The hiring comes at a crucial time for the Russia inquiry and the criminal investigation of Michael Cohen.

Updated

President Donald Trump’s legal team got a significant boost of big-name talent and criminal-law expertise on Thursday with the addition of Rudy Giuliani and two other former federal prosecutors coming at a critical time for the widespread Russia inquiry and a high-stakes criminal investigation into the president’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

The hiring of the former New York mayor, along with the husband-wife law partners Jane Serene Raskin and Marty Raskin, came just hours after a federal judge raised doubts about the scope of the order used to appoint special counsel Robert Mueller to look into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and shortly before the Justice Department delivered to Congress copies of former FBI Director James Comey’s memos documenting his interactions with the president last year.

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The additions also came on the eve of a hearing on Friday in Los Angeles on a bid by the president and Cohen to delay a lawsuit filed by Stormy Daniels, the adult-film actress who claims to have had a sexual encounter with Trump about a decade ago.

Giuliani, a longtime friend and outspoken ally of the president’s who was on the short list to be his first secretary of state, is expected to take a lead role as Trump’s personal representative in navigating the Mueller investigation. He replaces John Dowd, the prominent white-collar defense attorney who resigned last month just days after calling for the Russia investigation to be shuttered.

Trump’s legal team has been missing a big-name expert on criminal law since Dowd’s departure. Ty Cobb, a white-collar defense expert, is handling only the official White House response to the Russia investigation. On the personal front, Trump has been leaning on Jay Sekulow and several of his associates from the American Center for Law & Justice. He’s also staying in touch with other longtime lawyers and legal advisers, including Marc Kasowitz and Jeanine Pirro, the Fox News host.

Trump’s legal team also has a New York-focused wing with Joanna Hendon, a former federal prosecutor who with her boutique, Manhattan-based firm, Spears & Imes, has been handling the response to the Cohen investigation, including a legal fight with the Justice Department over materials seized in the FBI’s raid of Cohen’s home, office and hotel room last week related to various matters, including a $ 130,000 pre-election payment to Daniels.

“You’ve got different fronts,” Sekulow said in an interview earlier this week. “By nature, it’s going to expand the scope of who you’re going to retain.”

Giuliani, who was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in the 1980s before being elected as mayor, enters the Trump team with some of his own distinct ties to the Russia case. His former law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, advised the controversial data-mining outfit Cambridge Analytica on its obligations under U.S. campaign law.

He also acknowledged he was in touch with FBI officials during the 2016 presidential campaign and said the bureau’s rank and file were “boiling” over about its handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Shortly before the FBI director at the time, James Comey, reopened that investigation that October, Giuliani said the Trump campaign had “a couple of things up our sleeves that should turn things around.”

On Thursday evening, the Justice Department delivered to Congress copies of Comey’s memos, detailing his interactions with Trump, a move intended to avert a legal standoff between House Republicans and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The memos are believed to be central to Mueller’s investigation into whether the president or his allies tried to obstruct the FBI investigation of Trump campaign contacts with Russia.

Earlier in the day, during a hearing in one of Mueller’s criminal cases against Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson questioned whether Rosenstein’s directive appointing Mueller granted him more authority than Justice Department regulations appear to permit. She issued no ruling on the issue of Mueller’s authority, but didn’t seem convinced that the potential overbreadth of Rosenstein’s order had actually resulted in any harm to Manafort.

Giuliani will be taking a leave of absence effective Thursday from Greenberg Traurig, the law firm where he now works, “for an unspecified period of time to handle matters unrelated to the law firm or its clients,” said Richard Rosenbaum, the firm’s executive chairman.

Trump’s struggle finding legal help has been a recurring theme, with several elite attorneys turning down offers because of the president’s temperamental, tweet-first approach and his repeatedly violating his lawyers’ wishes by discussing the case publicly and with his top aides.

“Hard to say how this fundamentally changes any of the current dynamic, but there is certainly a need for legal help,” said Sam Buell, a former federal prosecutor.

Michael Cohen is pictured. | AP Photo

Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney from eastern Michigan in the Obama administration, said Giuliani had “the experience and knowledge to advise the president in a federal criminal investigation.”

But, she added, “an important component to legal advice is good judgment. Time will tell how well Mr. Giuliani performs on that aspect of his representation.”

Former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg said Giuliani could benefit Trump more on the public relations front, rather than on the nuances of the legal fight.

“Not the guy I would hire for the job; show horse, not a workhorse,” he said. “Trump needs a workhorse. But he’ll be good on TV, and I guess that is what matters to Trump.”

Giuliani was also a vice chairman of the Trump transition team, whose activities have come under scrutiny by Mueller’s investigators, and he also agreed to serve as a cybersecurity adviser to the Trump administration, although there have been few signs of his involvement on that front.

The former New York mayor has also represented Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader charged in the U.S. for helping Iran skirt sanctions. Just weeks before Trump’s inauguration, Michael Flynn, then the incoming national security adviser, reportedly included Zarrab in talks with Turkish officials and was seeking her release as part of a larger diplomatic exchange that later came under Mueller’s scrutiny.

Giuliani met with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, early last year in an effort to resolve the charges against Zarrab. In addition, the law firm Giuliani is now taking leave from, Greenberg Traurig, is a registered lobbyist in the U.S. for the Turkish government.

Flynn’s guilty plea on a false statement charge last December included an admission that in filings with the Justice Department he misrepresented his work for the government of Turkey.

Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.

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