WASHINGTON ― One of President Donald Trump’s lawyers took to the airwaves on Sunday to tell the American people that the meeting high-level Trump campaign officials ― including the president’s eldest son ― had with Russian lawyers last year was perfectly above-board and that then-candidate Trump knew nothing about it.
Lawyer Jay Sekulow (whose background has come under scrutiny), pulled off the first “Full Ginsburg” of the Trump era, appearing on all five major Sunday shows: “Fox News Sunday,” ABC’s “This Week,” CNN’s “State of the Union,” CBS’ “Face the Nation,” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.
Sekulow’s appearances came in the wake of one of the most consequential developments concerning the links between Russia and Trump’s presidential bid ― revelations that Donald Trump Jr., Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort met in June 2016 with a Russian lawyer after being promised information that would be damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Emails released last week by Trump Jr. showed that he was told the information was coming from the Russian government and was part of their effort to support Trump’s campaign.
For the most part, Sekulow stuck to predictable talking points. The lawyer also engaged in some what-about-ism, repeatedly bringing up a Ukrainian American political operative’s support for the Clinton campaign. He repeatedly made the questionable claim that nothing about the Trump Tower meeting Trump Jr. set up with the Russian lawyer and others was illegal. And, he stressed, the president knew nothing about it.
Here’s a rundown of the main points Sekulow made on each of the Sunday shows.
On “Fox News Sunday”:
Sekulow claimed that former FBI Director James Comey “illegally leaked information” on his Oval Office discussions with Trump by relaying information from an unclassified memo to a friend who passed it along to a New York Times reporter. He made the assertion despite the lack of evidence that any of the information Comey ― fired by Trump in early May ― provided his friend was classified or unlawful to publicly disclose.
Sekulow said the conduct of Trump Jr. was not a violation of any statute and not against the law. Opposition research “is not a thing of value,” Sekulow also claimed. Experts disagree; they say that the type of information Trump Jr. expected would be considered a “thing of value” under campaign finance law and illegal to solicit from a foreign national.
Sekulow also dodged on who was paying his legal bills, only saying that he was of counsel with the law firm representing Trump.
On “This Week”:
If the meeting with the Russian lawyer was nefarious, Sekulow asked, “why’d the Secret Service allow these people in?”
The role of the Secret Service is the personal protection of presidential candidates, and having agents interfere in this type of meeting would have been highly improper. Anyway, a spokesman for the Secret Service told Reuters that Donald Trump Jr. was “not a protectee” of the agency when the meeting occurred and “thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time.” The agency was already providing protection for his father.
Sekulow said he had not had a conversation with the president about potentially pardoning any individuals in connection with the investigations ― including a Justice Department probe headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller ― into the links between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.
“I have not had the conversation with the president about any of that, and I wouldn’t share it if I did because of the attorney-client privilege,” Sekulow said. “He can pardon individuals, of course, that’s because the founders of our country put that in the United States Constitution, the power to pardon. But I have not had those conversations, so I couldn’t speculate on that.”
On “State of the Union”:
Sekulow dodged Jake Tapper’s question about the morality or ethical questions about taking a meeting with Russian operatives, saying he was only focused on the legal questions that surround it.
“Everyone is looking backwards saying would’ve, should’ve, could’ve,” Sekulow said.
He also said he didn’t know the details about who was paying his legal bills through another law firm. “I don’t know the final determinations of who is paying what bills to whom,” Sekulow said. “I think that’s still in process.”
On “Face the Nation”:
Sekulow said there’s been no formal notification that Mueller is investigating the commander-in-chief.
“Well, we’ve had no notification from the special counsel. Nothing’s changed since James Comey said three times to the president that he was not under investigation. We’ve had nothing to the contrary since then,” Sekulow said.
Sekulow also said that Trump “was not aware” of the Trump Jr. meeting “until really right before it all broke” earlier this month. Sekulow said the president has been “very clear” about that, and that “there’s been no information to the contrary.”
In fact, Trump conceded that the meeting “maybe ... was mentioned at some point” before the recent coverage of it, although he said he didn’t know it was about dirt on Clinton.
On “Meet the Press”:
Sekulow said he was not certain about everyone who was at the meeting. He said that Trump found out about it “very recently, right before this came out,” despite the president’s admission to the contrary.
Sekulow also said that Trump “did not draft the response” that Trump Jr. sent to The New York Times last weekend about the scope of the meeting, and that the president Trump was “not involved” in the crafting of the comment.
“There’s nothing illegal about that meeting,” Sekulow claimed. “There was nothing illegal to cover up.”
The “full Ginsberg” term for Sekulow’s busy Sunday morning derives from lawyer William Ginsburg, who represented Monica Lewinsky during the sex scandal that engulfed President Bill Clinton and, in that role, was the first person to make appearances on the major talk shows on the same day.
This article has been updated to include a comment from the U.S. Secret Service, as reported by Reuters.