DONALD J. TRUMP isn’t under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, a member of the president’s legal team said, despite Trump’s repeated comments on social media that he’s the target of a “witch hunt”.
“The president is not and has not been under investigation for obstruction,” lawyer Jay Sekulow said on NBC’s Meet the Press. He made similar comments in three other TV appearances last Sunday.
The conservative lawyer, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, is assisting Trump lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, as Mueller investigates Russian interference in the 2016 elections and the potential obstruction of justice by the president in the firing of former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey in May.
Trump last Friday said on Twitter that “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.” It was the first time Trump had publicly acknowledged that he’s under investigation.
Yet, Sekulow said the president was referring to a news report about an investigation, not an actual probe. “The tweet from the president was in response to the five anonymous sources that were purportedly leaking information to the Washington Post,” he said.
No notice received
“We’ve received no notice of investigation. There has been no notification from the special counsel’s office that the president is under investigation. In fact, to the contrary,” Sekulow said on CBS’s Face the Nation.
On Fox News Sunday, Sekulow seemed to confirm, as well as deny an investigation, as he defended Trump’s decision to fire Comey.
“He takes the action that [the Attorney General’s office] recommended and now he’s being investigated by the Department of Justice,” Sekulow said of Trump. “He’s being investigated for taking the action that the attorney general and deputy attorney general recommended him to take, by the agency who recommended the terminations.”
“You’ve now said he is being investigated after saying” he isn’t, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace said. “No, he’s not being investigated!” Sekulow said.
Sekulow cited testimony by Comey earlier this month that the president wasn’t a target of an investigation. The suggestion that Mueller is expanding his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 elections and the Trump team’s actions into a possible obstruction case has emerged since Comey spoke to the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8.
Taking to Twitter last Sunday while spending the weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, Trump again referenced the “distraction of the Witch Hunt”. He’s used the term repeatedly—notably last Thursday, when he said the “ single greatest witch hunt in American political history” is being led by “very bad and conflicted people”.
The future of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein seemed in doubt last Friday, when Trump appeared to attack him in the tweet about being investigated.
A US official last week confirmed that Rosenstein has told colleagues he may have to recuse himself from the inquiry because he’d criticized Comey in a memo before Trump fired the FBI chief. Although the White House initially said Rosenstein’s memo led Trump to fire Comey, the president later said in a television interview that he did so because of the Russia investigation.
Asked on NBC whether Trump’s social-media commentary may be designed to intimidate Rosenstein or Mueller, Sen. Marco Rubio said, “I have no basis on which to make a decision on what his intent is”, but added that the tweets “in no way” will impede the work of the investigation.
The FBI “doesn’t sit around all day and read tweets”, said Rubio, a Republican from Florida who’s a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “The FBI’s going to do their job. Mueller’s going to do his job.”
Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally, said the president’s tweet seemingly acknowledging that he’s under investigation wasn’t helpful.
“Trump has a compulsion to counterattack and is very pugnacious,” Gingrich said on ABC’s This Week.
Sekulow downplayed Trump’s tweets, saying the president is simply responding to what he sees in the media in a way that can reach millions of his supporters. “So that tweet takes, let’s say, 15 seconds,” Sekulow said on NBC. “This is not taking up the president of the United States’s day.”
Even so, White House Spokesman Sean Spicer said in a June 6 news conference that Trump’s tweets should be considered “official statements”.
Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on House Intelligence Committee, said last Sunday that Trump and his personal attorney are trying to “take down” Mueller before he finishes his investigation.
“They want to lay the foundation to discredit whatever Bob Mueller comes up with,” Schiff said on ABC. “They’re essentially engaging in a scorched-earth litigation strategy that is beginning with trying to discredit the prosecutor.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, said on Fox News Sunday that it would be a “disaster” for Trump to fire Mueller or Rosenstein, or to nudge the latter to recuse himself in an effort to slow down the investigation.
Rosenstein is the only official who could fire Mueller, because Attorney General Jeff Sessions previously recused himself from the probe into Russian interference in last year’s presidential campaign and whether anyone close to Trump colluded with the Russians.
“If the president thinks he can fire Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and replace him with someone who will shut down the investigation, he’s in for a rude awakening,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said last Friday in a statement.
Rubio said “that’s not going to happen”, when asked whether he’s concerned that Trump may be preparing to fire Mueller and Rosenstein.
“The best thing that could happen for the president, and the country, is a full and credible investigation,” Rubio said on CNN’s State of the Union, adding that he has “no reason” to doubt Mueller and his investigation.
Asked on NBC where the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation stands, Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, said “we’re 20 percent into” the collusion aspect of the investigation. He said it could be done “maybe by the end of the year”.
Separately, Rubio said on NBC that while Trump is “pretty fired up” about the investigation, he doesn’t think the president “has a problem with additional sanctions on Russia” that the Senate approved last Thursday.
The bipartisan measure, approved 98-2, now awaits action by the House. Politico reported last Saturday the White House plans to work with Republicans in the House to make changes to the bill, which curbs Trump’s ability to ease penalties against Russia.