The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Star GOP lawyer Theodore B. Olson declines offer to join Trump legal team

President Trump’s legal team reached out in recent days to Theodore B. Olson, one of the country’s most high-profile and seasoned litigators, to join forces amid mounting challenges in the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to three people familiar with the discussions.

The overture came as Trump, feeling more vulnerable to the investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, has told confidants he wants to recruit top-tier talent and shake up his group of lawyers, the people said.

But after reviewing the offer and weighing potential conflicts with his clients at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where he is a partner, Olson is not planning to join Trump’s team, a top executive at the firm said Tuesday.

“I can confirm that [the firm] and Theodore B. Olson will not be representing Trump,” Theodore J. Boutrous, the global co-chair of the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher litigation group, tweeted on Monday following The Washington Post’s initial report.

With White House Counsel Donald McGahn's departure, President Trump's large and ever-changing legal team is thrown into turmoil once again. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Olson, 77, who served as solicitor general in the George W. Bush administration and has long been considered a legal superstar, would have brought deeper ties to the Justice Department and more experience on landmark cases than any of Trump’s current lawyers.

Inside the West Wing, there have been ongoing talks about Olson. Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway recommended Olson to the president this week, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

The president discussed the possibility of enlisting Olson with aides Monday and was supportive of the idea, a person said.

The people familiar with the discussions were not authorized to speak publicly.

Olson, in an email, said Tuesday, “I’m not going to be commenting on this subject.”

Growing concerns over the Mueller team’s possible interview of Trump — which would likely include questions about possible obstruction of justice — have sped up efforts by the president’s team to bring in Olson or another lawyer of his caliber, the people said.

On Monday, The Post reported that Trump’s legal team recently shared with Mueller’s office documents that chronicle key moments under investigation — in the hope of curtailing the scope of a potential sit-down interview with Trump.

The talks with Olson are part of a broader disruption in the president’s legal circle. Trump reshuffled his legal team on Monday by hiring Joe diGenova, an often incendiary pundit and former U.S. attorney who has publicly argued Trump is the target of an elaborate FBI conspiracy.

The efforts to hire Olson, along with diGenova, underscore how the president is seeking veteran lawyers with gravitas to contend with the experienced prosecutors on Mueller’s team while adding hard-charging figures who can defend him on television, the people said.

Trump’s legal team tasked with the Russia probe now includes White House lawyer Ty Cobb and two personal attorneys, John Dowd and Jay Sekulow. Dowd and Cobb have urged the president for months to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation, which they have assured the president would quickly conclude.

As the probe has carried on into this year, Trump has angrily complained to aides that Cobb and Dowd have been too cooperative with Mueller, but he has not fired them.

Over the weekend, Dowd went on the attack in the Russia inquiry, arguing that the probe by the special counsel should come to an end — though he backtracked on whether he was speaking on behalf of the president.

Olson has previously been eyed by Trump’s team. Last spring, after the special counsel was appointed to oversee the probe, Trump considered an array of high-profile lawyers to represent him — and Olson was among the leading candidates.

At the time, Trump’s lead lawyer was Marc Kasowitz, a combative civil lawyer who did not want to relinquish the case but was bringing in lawyers for interviews with Trump.

Olson declined to comment at the time about any discussions he had with the White House or interest he may have had in the case. Two Trump advisers said many lawyers turned down the case because of uncertainty about their role, should Kasowitz be involved.

According to several people familiar with the deliberations, other attorneys under consideration have included Brendan Sullivan, Robert J. Giuffra Jr., A.B. Culvahouse and Reid H. Weingarten.

Olson has long been one of the nation’s go-to lawyers for complex criminal defense cases. He successfully represented Bush in the famous election recount dispute, Bush v. Gore, before the Supreme Court in 2000.

Olson broke his conservative typecast in 2010 when he worked to overturn California’s same-sex marriage ban, known as Proposition 8.

Russia, however, is far from the lone issue vexing Trump’s legal operation. Last week, one of Trump’s personal attorneys, Michael Cohen, filed papers alleging he has the right to seek at least $20 million in damages from porn star Stormy Daniels for allegedly violating a nondisclosure agreement 20 times by talking about what she says was an affair with Trump.

Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.