President Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, is making the rounds to defend Trump’s conduct in the Russia scandal. On Sunday morning, Sekulow appeared on five networks, parrying questions about Trump; his son Donald Trump Jr.; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Sekulow didn’t just defend the president. He accused people of crimes and suggested that they should be investigated for telling the truth about what Trump did. Sekulow’s legal arguments are now part of the Russia cover-up.
For two months, Sekulow said there was nothing to investigate. Even after Trump said otherwise, Sekulow maintained that the president fired then–FBI Director James Comey on May 9 for the reason Trump initially asserted: that Comey, according to a Justice Department memo, had mistreated Hillary Clinton during his investigation of her emails in 2016. Sekulow insisted that there was “no evidence of Russian collusion” with the Trump campaign and agreed with Trump that the whole inquiry was “a witch hunt.”
Two discoveries messed up Sekulow’s story. The first was a series of memos in which Comey documented his meetings with Trump from January to April. The memos, which began leaking to the press after Comey was fired, indicated that Trump had soured on Comey because Comey refused to truncate the Russia investigation, not because of the Clinton investigation. The second discovery was a string of emails, exposed last week, that showed Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and then–campaign chairman Paul Manafort had met with Russians in June 2016 to pursue what was presented as an offer of campaign help from Vladimir Putin’s government. The meeting came two months before Manafort resigned over disclosures about his work for Russian interests in Ukraine.
Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.
Get Slate Voice, the spoken edition of the magazine, made exclusively for Slate Plus members. In addition to this article, you’ll hear a daily selection of our best stories, handpicked by our editors and voiced by professional narrators.Start your free 2-week trial
To listen to an audio recording of this article, copy this link and add it to your podcast app:
For full instructions see the Slate Plus podcasts FAQ.
Sekulow has responded to these discoveries by suggesting that you should never have learned about them. To begin with, he says Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s whole investigation is illegitimate because it was triggered by Comey’s memos, which were released without Trump’s approval. Sekulow never engages the contents of the memos. He just claims that Comey’s release of them violated executive privilege, “deliberative privilege,” and laws against stealing government property.
Sekulow claims, falsely, that Comey is forbidden to disclose—and should be “in jail” for disclosing—what Trump said to him in their private meetings. “At a minimum, he gave out information about a conversation with the president of the United States,” Sekulow fumed last week on Fox and Friends. “That violates Section 641 of the criminal code.” That’s nonsense: Section 641 addresses embezzlement of things with financial value, not memos. But in Sekulow’s world, the president can use privileges and statutes to silence any employee.
On Sunday, Sekulow used this argument to deflect questions about the Russian meeting with Manafort, Kushner, and Don Jr. Several interviewers began by asking Sekulow whether the meeting discredited the Trump camp’s categorical denials of collusion. Each time, Sekulow dismissed the question, reasoning that “this entire investigation has been based … on illegally leaked information.” The Trump camp’s initial argument that there was no collusion has been replaced by a new argument that we shouldn’t even talk about collusion because the investigation is contaminated by leaked evidence.
Instead of discussing the Russian meeting, Sekulow accused Democrats of colluding with Ukraine to publicize Manafort’s financial ties to Russia. This, too, is a gross misrepresentation. But Manafort and the Trump campaign really were connected to Russia, through Manafort’s lobbying contracts and the 2016 campaign meeting. So when Sekulow and the White House complain that Manafort was targeted for his Russian connections—and suggest that Democrats should be investigated for exposing those connections—they’re implying that Manafort’s part in the Trump-Russia web shouldn’t have been brought to light.
Sekulow also supports closing other avenues of discovery. He says the Justice Department needs “a special unit that does nothing but go after these leakers” who dish on Trump and Russia. He’s free to make that case, just as he’s free to argue that Democrats should be investigated for exposing Manafort, or that Comey should be jailed for divulging what Trump said to him. But if laws were interpreted and enforced as Sekulow advocates, every channel through which Trump’s Russian connections and lies have been revealed would be closed. If you doubt Trump is trying to bury the truth, just watch his lawyer.