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Trump not under investigation, his attorney says


This article was published June 19, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.


President Donald Trump and his son Barron Trump walk to Marine One across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, June 17, 2017, en route to Camp David in Maryland.

WASHINGTON -- A member of the president's outside legal team said Sunday that Donald Trump is not under federal investigation, days after Trump appeared to confirm he was with a tweet about being the target of a "witch hunt."

Appearing on a series of morning news programs, attorney Jay Sekulow repeatedly stressed that "the president has not been and is not under investigation." He said a Friday tweet from Trump was specifically directed at a story in The Washington Post about the expanding probe into Russia's election meddling.

"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," Sekulow said on NBC's Meet the Press," part of a blitz of bookings on the Sunday morning public affairs shows that also included CNN's State of the Union, CBS' Face the Nation and Fox News Sunday.

That assessment was at odds with a Washington Post report last week and seemingly with a tweet by Trump himself on Friday.

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During a later appearance on Fox News Sunday, Sekulow conceded that he could not say with absolute certainty that Trump is not being investigated because he cannot read the mind of special counsel Robert Mueller.

"The president is not under investigation by the special counsel," Sekulow said on NBC. "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 said that Trump has not been notified of any investigation. He also cited the testimony from former FBI Director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee, in which Comey said he had told Trump he was not under investigation in the months leading up to his May 9 firing.

Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and has expansive powers to probe any matters that develop from his initial investigation.

The president wrote on Twitter on Friday: "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt."

"Witch hunt" has become Trump's preferred phrase to dismiss the probe into Russian election interference. The message apparently referred to Rosenstein, whose role leading the federal investigation has become increasingly complicated. The White House used a memo he wrote to justify Trump's decision to fire Comey, but Trump's firing of the FBI director may now be part of the probe.

The president has denied that he has any nefarious ties to Russia and has also disputed that he has attempted to block the investigation into his campaign's possible role in Russia's election-related hacking.

A U.S. official last week confirmed that Rosenstein has told colleagues he may have to recuse himself from the inquiry because he had 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.

The president has directed some of his frustration at Rosenstein and Mueller. Sen. Marco Rubio said Sunday that he does not expect Trump to seek to fire them.

"I don't believe it's going to happen," Rubio said on CNN. "The best thing that could happen for the president, and the country, is a full and credible investigation."

Asked on NBC whether Trump's social media commentary may be designed to intimidate Rosenstein or Mueller, 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 is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "The FBI's going to do their job. Mueller's going to do his job."

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday on ABC's This Week 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, D-Minn., said on Fox 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 Friday in a statement.

Rubio, who also appeared on CBS, said "that's not going to happen" when asked whether he's concerned that Trump may be preparing to fire Mueller and Rosenstein.

Trump is also under pressure to reveal whether he has any tape recordings of private conversations with Comey. Schiff said his panel is looking forward to getting a response from the White House on whether recordings exist.

The president suggested on Twitter that he may have taped those conversations. Schiff said he wants the White House to acknowledge the tapes or make clear there are no tapes and "it was an idle threat."

The committee sent a bipartisan letter this month to White House counsel Don McGahn seeking an answer by Friday. It also sent a letter to Comey asking for any notes or memos. Schiff said if the panel can't get an answer then he believes a subpoena will be needed.

Schiff also said he believes recent congressional testimony from Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions points to signs of possible obstruction by Trump that warrant further investigation. Schiff cited the fact that the president at one meeting "cleared the room" of advisers and asked to speak to Comey alone. Comey testified to Congress that Trump then asked him to back off the investigation into his fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

"That signifies this president knew all too well that it was inappropriate," Schiff said.

And Senate Intelligence Committee member Angus King, an independent from Maine, stressed that the probe will likely last for a long time. King said on NBC the "collusion, the cooperation aspect of the investigation is not over." He added: "A lot of people have said, 'When do you think you'll be done?' Maybe the end of the year. This is a very complex matter, involving thousands of pages of intelligence documents, lots of witnesses. There's a lot of information yet to go."

While aides have advised Trump to stay off Twitter, the president continued to weigh in Sunday as he spent the weekend at Camp David, the government-owned presidential retreat in Maryland.

In a two-part tweet posted before 7 a.m., Trump wrote: "The Make America Great Again agenda is doing very well despite the distraction of the Witch Hunt."

Rubio spoke on NBC, CNN and CBS.

Information for this article was contributed by Catherine Lucey and Hope Yen of The Associated Press; by John Wagner and Rosalind S. Helderman of The Washington Post; and by Mark Niquette, Ros Krasny, Jeanna Smialek, David McLaughlin and Ben Brody of Bloomberg News.

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