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Spurned by big law firms, Trump relies on a handful of lesser-known attorneys

According to Jay Sekulow, President Trump’s last remaining personal lawyer, Trump’s legal team is paid through his private law firm, the Constitutional Litigation Advocacy Group.

An unlikely trio — a law professor, a part-time local prosecutor and a lawyer focused on advocating conservative issues — is playing an increasingly central role in representing President Trump in the Russia investigation as he struggles to find top talent for his diminished legal team.

All three are connected to Jay Sekulow, Trump's last remaining personal lawyer after John Dowd, a white-collar criminal defense attorney, resigned last week and other lawyers have declined to join up. Dowd had been leading negotiations with the office of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III about a possible presidential interview.

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"With John's departure, there's obviously more on us," Sekulow said.

Trump has been hunting for another defense attorney, but he's been turned down several times. Two other lawyers who were announced just last week as joining his team, the husband-and-wife duo of Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing, dropped out on Sunday, citing conflicts with other clients.

The developments have elevated Sekulow, who's best known as an advocate for conservative religious causes at the American Center for Law and Justice, to the central figure in the president's defense strategy.

The three other lawyers have either worked for Sekulow's group or alongside him on various legal issues in the past. Sekulow said that they've been helping represent the president since he was hired in June. Their roles, however, are enhanced now.

One of the lawyers, Ben Sisney, is the center's senior counsel for litigation and public policy. He previously worked as a lawyer in Oklahoma and clerked for a U.S. District Court judge there.

Another lawyer is Mark Goldfeder, a senior lecturer at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta. According to the biography on the school's website, his work has focused on religious and international issues.

The third lawyer is Andrew Ekonomou, an Atlanta-based attorney who has the most experience with criminal cases. He previously worked as a state and federal prosecutor, at one time serving as the acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.

Ekonomou works in private practice but also occasionally prosecutes cases for a district attorney's office in southeastern Georgia. He also has a doctorate in medieval history.

Sekulow declined to specify what kind of work each lawyer is providing, saying only that "our cooperation with the office of the special counsel continues and is ongoing."

He said all of the lawyers are paid through his private law firm, the Constitutional Litigation Advocacy Group, not the American Center for Law and Justice. He would not say who pays the president's bills, but said it was not a political party or organization. The Republican National Committee had previously covered some of the costs.

Ted Olson, a prominent Republican lawyer and former solicitor general during the George W. Bush administration, is one of the lawyers who turned down the president. He later told MSNBC that the upheaval in the Trump administration is "not good for anything."

"I think everybody would agree this is turmoil, it's chaos, it's confusion," Olson said.

More recently, two lawyers from the prestigious firm Winston & Strawn, Dan Webb and Tom Buchanan, declined to represent Trump.

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"They were unable to take on the representation due to business conflicts," the firm said in a statement. "However they consider the opportunity to represent the President to be the highest honor and they sincerely regret that they cannot do so."

Twitter: @chrismegerian

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