President Trump salutes a Marine as he walks off Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House last week. (Michael Reynolds/EPA).
A member of President Trump’s legal team said Sunday that Trump is not under investigation by the special counsel, an assessment at odds with a Washington Post report last week and seemingly with a tweet by Trump himself on Friday.
“Let me be very clear here, as it has been since the beginning, the president is not and has not been under investigation for obstruction,” lawyer Jay Sekulow said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” part of a blitz of bookings on the Sunday public affairs shows.
The Post reported last week that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who was appointed to oversee the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election, is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice.
On Twitter on Friday, Trump wrote as part of a tweet about the probe that “I am being investigated.”
I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2017
“The president is not under investigation by the special counsel,” Sekulow told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “The tweet from the president was in response to the five anonymous sources that were purportedly leaking information to The Washington Post about a potential investigation of the president.”
Sekulow cited congressional testimony by fired FBI Director James B. Comey that he had told Trump on several occasions that Trump was not personally under investigations. Those conversations, however, occurred before Comey was fired and before the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation.
The Post story cited five people briefed on the interview requests, who said that the current director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, head of the National Security Agency, Mike Rogers, and Rogers’s recently departed deputy, Richard Ledgett, agreed to be interviewed by Mueller’s investigators.
The five people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Sekulow’s interview with NBC was one of four scheduled Sunday-morning television appearances.
He referred to The Post story as “a fake report” during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“We stand by our story, which President Trump confirmed Friday in a tweet acknowledging he is under investigation for obstruction of justice,” Post executive editor Martin Baron said Sunday.
Other news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and CNN have since had similar reports.
In a combative and testy exchange on “Fox News Sunday,” Sekulow acknowledged he could not know for sure that Mueller has not opened an investigation but said he had no reason to believe he had.
“Nothing has changed” since Comey informed the president that he was not being personally investigated, he said.
The interview turned tense, however, when host Chris Wallace then asked Sekulow about the remainder of Trump’s tweet, in which Trump had complained that he was being investigated for firing Comey by the man who told him to fire Comey.
Wallace asked Sekulow if Trump believes that Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who wrote a memo criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation, has done anything wrong.
Sekulow responded that Trump had been getting at a “constitutional issue.”
“He’s being investigated for taking the action that the attorney general and the deputy attorney general recommended him to take, by the agency that recommended he take the action. That’s the constitutional threshold issue,” Sekulow said.
When Wallace pointed out that Sekulow had appeared to agree in his answer that the president is under investigation, the lawyer grew flustered. He said he had only been discussing the constitutional problem posed if the president were being investigated.
“I don’t appreciate you putting words in my mouth when I’ve been crystal clear that the president is not and has not been under investigation,” he said.
“But you don’t know that he’s not under investigation, right?” Wallace responded.
“You’re right, Chris. I cannot read the mind of the special prosecutor,” Sekulow responded. “We’re agreed, then,” Wallace said.
Wallace then asked if Trump believes the law allows for a president to be indicted.
Constitutional scholars have debated the question for years, though the Justice Department has said in formal opinions written under Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon that the Constitution bars a sitting president from facing legal indictment.
Sekulow responded that Trump couldn’t be indicted “because there’s not an investigation.”
“Oh boy, this is weird,” Wallace responded, noting, again, that Sekulow cannot know there is no investigation.
Sekulow also insisted that Trump’s tweets have posed no problems for his legal team. He said Trump had learned the effectiveness of social media as a communications tool during the campaign.
“Nothing he’s tweeted has caused me any issues whatsoever,” he said. “Nothing.”
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