Trump is expected to nominate former White House chief strategist Paul Manafort to be the White House’s top legal adviser in the coming months, as the Trump transition team moves to prepare for the next phase of the presidency, according to people familiar with the matter.
A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment on the matter and the White the transition team could not be reached for comment.
The move could set up a clash with Mueller, who is leading the Russia probe.
The special counsel has been probing possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials and Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Manafort, a former Republican Party chairman, has been a strong defender of Trump’s presidency.
Manafort’s appointment could be part of a broader effort by Trump to appoint top-level officials at a time when the president is trying to get rid of Mueller and other investigations into his campaign.
Manuel Miranda, a professor of constitutional law at George Washington University, said the selection of Manafort would raise concerns about whether Trump is using his new position to influence the Mueller probe, according with The Hill.
The special counsel, who has been looking into possible collusion, has focused on whether Trump campaign officials colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, but Mueller has focused more on the potential for coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.
The former GOP vice presidential candidate has said he did not collude with Russia.
“The investigation will continue,” he said at a Senate hearing last month.
“I will not comment on a matter that is ongoing, including matters that have already been reported.
But I can tell you that the investigation is not limited to my campaign.”
Manafort, 70, was a key adviser to Trump during the campaign, including during the first week of the campaign when he was tasked with advising Trump on how to respond to criticism from Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton about his past work as a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician in the 1990s.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment on Manafort’s appointment.
Former White House ethics czar Walter Shaub said in a statement that Manafort is an excellent choice for the role because of his extensive experience as a public servant, his understanding of the complexities of conflict of interest issues and his strong relationship with Trump.
The selection of a high-profile public servant to serve as a special counsel in the middle of an investigation is unprecedented, Shaub added.
“It sends a message to those who would use his position to advance their own interests that the special counsel will not be deterred by partisan politics or by the desire to get a political victory.”
Manuel Vazquez, a law professor at George Mason University, told The Hill he believes Manafort is qualified for the job because he has strong relationships with Trump and Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son.
Manu Raju, a New York University law professor, said that Manafort has been in the White Street firm since 2005, and the Trump Organization has an office in Manhattan.
“He’s someone who has worked on the campaign,” Raju said.
“He’s not a political operative, and that’s important for the special prosecutor.”
Manu Sena, a senior adviser to the House Judiciary Committee, also told The Associated Press that Manafort “has been a very good friend to President Trump.”
Manual Zelaya, a White House spokesman, declined to respond directly to questions about Manafort’s nomination.
“As I’ve said many times before, the President is committed to being transparent and honest with the American people,” Zelaya said in an email.
“His legal team is currently reviewing the president Jr. and Jared Kushner’s interactions with foreign governments and officials, as well as his dealings with foreign entities.”
The special prosecutor is looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Trump has denied any collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin.
The president has fired the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the Russia investigation.
The attorney general’s office has been leading the probe, as have special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators.
Manafort was appointed by former President George W. Bush in 2013 to the post.