A presidential tweet had the media in full-on, speculative meltdown mode over the weekend. On Friday morning, June 16, President Donald J. Trump sent the following typo-free missive via his favorite social media platform:
I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2017
That tweet seemed to confirm multiple anonymous suspicions given play by self-styled defenders of democracy about President Trump vis–à–vis the probe into Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s childish outburst on Twitter was proof-positive that the man himself was not simply under a cloud of malfeasance; rather, the investigative rain was falling right on top of his head.
But, of course, then it wasn’t. In a by now too-banal-to-care-about-having-being-entirely-predictable turn of events, Trump’s tweet was more or less immediately disavowed by someone else in the president’s orbit: his new lawyer, Jay Sekulow.
Making the rounds on the Sunday talk shows, Sekulow did the usual dance of denial and dissimulation. Speaking with NBC‘s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” he said: “Let me be clear here, the president is not and has not been under investigation for obstruction.”
On the contrary, Sekulow said, Trump was just responding to the accusations in the Washington Post‘s (and New York Times‘) anonymously-sourced and leak-based reporting. Trump was correcting the record by talking directly to his base. It was confusing, contradictory and Chuck Todd didn’t press the issue when given the opportunity to go in for the kill. Sekulow’s exchange with CNN‘s Jake Tapper was about the same. And that’s all par.
But then, on CBS‘ “Face the Nation”, Sekulow changed his tune a bit and told host John Dickerson: “There has been no notification from the special counsel’s office that the president is under investigation.”
Except that’s not how it works. Like, not at all.
It is true that the Department of Justice can sometimes issue what are called “target letters,” but those typically only come into play after a grand jury is already convened, according to former federal prosecutor Brad Simon. Speaking to the New York Post, Simon said:
“[The Department of Justice] never formally advise someone they’re under investigation…It usually becomes apparent when they start issuing subpoenas.”
In other words: Sekulow’s comments about notification are completely ridiculous and without any sort of foundation in law or plausible reality. Of course, this is Sekulow’s first lawyer gig on such a level, so maybe his misunderstanding is just a rookie mistake.
Later on, Trump’s JV attorney told Dickerson that he “can’t imagine a scenario where the president would not be aware of [being under investigation.]”
That’s probably true–just not for the reasons that Sekulow thinks.
[image via screengrab]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.