President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order establishing regulatory reform officers and task forces in US agencies in Washington, DC on February 24, 2017.
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Russia scandal reaches new level: Donald Trump lawyers up

When a political scandal grows more serious, and powerful officials grow anxious about the direction of an ongoing investigation, we tend to reach the “lawyer up” phase: the point at which the powerful hire outside counsel to represent their interests.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 5/23/17, 9:00 PM ET

Brennan saw pattern of Russian op in Trump camp interactions

Rachel Maddow reports on highlights from former CIA Director John Brennan’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in which he described his concerns about Russians trying to use the Trump campaign.
Rachel Maddow reports on highlights from former CIA Director John Brennan’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in which he described his concerns about Russians trying to use the Trump campaign.
In the Russia scandal, Donald Trump has now reached this stage.
President Donald Trump is expected to retain Marc Kasowitz as private attorney on matters related to the Russia investigation, sources familiar with the decision told NBC News Tuesday.

Kasowitz has represented Trump in the past. Fox Business and ABC News earlier reported that Trump was expected to retain Kasowitz in relation to the Russia investigation.
Note, Kasowitz will represent Trump as an individual. This is separate from the White House’s counsel’s office, currently led by Don McGahn, which oversees legal matters related to the presidency.

Kasowitz is a curious choice. The New York attorney does not, for example, have a background in constitutional or defense cases – whether the president will face specific legal allegations remains unclear – though he has represented Trump in a variety of civil cases, “including on his divorce records, real estate transactions and allegations of fraud at Trump University.”

When Trump sued a New York Times reporter who wrote a book claiming Trump isn’t actually a billionaire, it was Kasowitz who oversaw the doomed case. (Trump sued for $5 billion, but his case went nowhere) When Trump was furious with the New York Times for publishing a piece about women who accused him of sexual misconduct, it was Kasowitz who sent an angry letter demanding a retraction. (There was no retraction.)

What’s more, as Rachel noted on last night’s show, the big high-profile case that Kasowitz has been involved with since Trump became president was representing … wait for it … Russia’s largest state-controlled bank, which is called Sperbank.

Now he’s leading Trump’s legal team on matters related to the Russia scandal.

To a certain extent, I’m a little surprised this news hasn’t already made a bigger splash. Imagine, for example, the hysteria that would’ve erupted if, at the height of the Republicans’ interest in the IRS pseudo-scandal, Barack Obama hired outside counsel to protect his personal legal interests.

The fact that Trump has now lawyered up is emblematic of the fact that the political world already accepts the fact that the Russia scandal is a major controversial and an existential threat to Trump’s presidency, and so observers take it as a given that he’d have to lawyer up sooner rather than later.