Attorney says tweet about ‘witch hunt’, in which president wrote ‘I’m being investigated for firing the FBI director’, only concerned Washington Post report
A member of Donald Trump’s legal team has denied the president’s own assertion that he is under investigation for obstruction of justice.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, appeared across the major political talk shows on Sunday. Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, he said: “The fact of the matter is the president has not been and is not under investigation.”
On NBC’s Meet the Press, he said: “He’s not afraid of the investigation – there is no investigation. There is not an investigation of the president of the United States, period.”
Sekulow’s comments directly contradicted Trump’s own tweet this week, in which he appeared to refer to deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein when he wrote: “I’m being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director. Witch hunt!”
Sekulow sought to brush aside the president’s words. Trump, he said, was merely responding to an anonymously sourced Washington Post report that said special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into links between Trump aides and Russia had expanded to look at Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey.
Sekulow added: “The president issued that tweet on social media because of the report in the Washington Post from five anonymous sources none of which, of course, anyone knows about, alleging that the president was under investigation in this purported expanded probe.
“The fact of the matter is the president has not been and is not under investigation. So this was his response, via Twitter, via social media.”
On CNN’s State of the Union, Sekulow sought to account for any confusion over Trump’s apparently precise words by saying the president could not “in a tweet, include all that is there”. But, he added, “this is a president that has utilised social media, has revolutionised the whole concept of electioneering with social media”.
In an echo of remarks by former House speaker Newt Gingrich this week, Trump’s attorney claimed the president has the constitutional authority to fire anyone he chooses without triggering obstruction of justice issues.
Sekulow said Trump nonetheless sought the opinion of Rosenstein on whether to fire Comey. It was a “threshold constitutional issue”, Sekulow said on CNN, whether an official who recommended such a firing could then investigate the president for making the decision.
“Before you get to an investigation,” he said, “you have to get to, ‘Does the constitution allow the prosecution of this type of matter.’ If there is going to be an investigation, which right now there is not, you would of course raise the constitutional issues first.”
Speaking on ABC, the Democratic congressman Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House intelligence committee, said he believed Trump was preparing to discredit Mueller’s findings in his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Schiff said rumors about Trump considering firing Mueller and Trump surrogates raising issues about the special counsel’s connections to donors to Democratic causes and campaigns amounted to an attempt to undermine the probe.
“The president wants to take down Bob Mueller, his lawyer wants to take down Bob Mueller and the question is why,” Schiff said. “I think the answer is they want to discredit whatever Bob Mueller comes up with.”
Schiff has previously warned that if Trump does fire Rosenstein or Mueller, it would trigger a constitutional crisis. He tweeted on Sunday: “Will take more than some tweets to besmirch Bob Mueller, a Purple Heart and Bronze Medal recipient who has served presidents of both parties.”
Sekulow’s comments seemed to establish the position Trump will take on the Mueller investigation, in any public testimony which the attorney said the president was still willing to give.
Trump however has regularly capsized official positions with his own candour on social media, and a senior Republican close to the president voiced concern on Sunday that, once again, the president had caused needless problems for himself.
“Trump has a compulsion to counter-attack,” Gingrich said on ABC’s This Week. “I don’t think that tweet helped him.”
Trump tweeted on Sunday morning. “The MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN agenda is doing very well despite the distraction of the Witch Hunt,” he wrote, before citing an outlying Rasmussen poll that gave him a 50% approval rating. Trump also claimed falsely to have a higher approval rating than Barack Obama.
The website fivethirtyeight.com gives Trump an average approval rating of 38.7%.