On this weekend’s broadcast of “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace got into a heated exchange with Jay Sekulow, a member of President Trump‘s legal team, over the Trump administration’s past denials of Russian contact.
Wallace pressed Sekulow several times to admit that those denials “are at the very least suspect.”
Partial transcript as follows:
WALLACE: Joining me now is Jay Sekulow, a member of the president’s legal team. Jay, since the story first broke about possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia, the president and his team have repeatedly dismissed this as a hoax and fake news. Here are a few examples.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: It’s disgusting, it’s so phony. That exactly goes to show you what the DNC and what the Clinton camp will do. They will lie and do anything to win.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia, and even — for anything. What do I have to do with Russia?
WALLACE: Was there any contact in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts they had?
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: Of course not. Why would there be any contacts between the campaign?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: The entire thing has been a witch hunt, and there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. But I can only speak for myself and the Russians, zero.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Jay, do you now acknowledge that all of those denials are at the very least suspect?
JAY SEKULOW, TRUMP LEGAL TEAM: No, you’ve got to put them in a context of what the president said and exactly what took place here, Chris. I think it’s important to put the framework here. How did we end up with a special counsel?
Here’s how: the former FBI director, was the FBI director at the time, James Comey, had a series of meetings with the president of the United States. In those meetings, he took notes. He put them on his government computer, put them in his government desk, and when he was terminated from the position, which you would (ph) acknowledge that the president had the authority to do, he gave them to a friend of his to leak to the press.
So, conversations he had with the president of the United States —
WALLACE: Jay, I’m aware of the history, but this doesn’t have anything to do with my question, which is whether or not — whether or not there were contacts.
SEKULOW: Chris, it has everything —
WALLACE: Can you answer the question? Does this —
SEKULOW: I’m going to answer your question, I am, and you’re going to let me answer it. So, I’m going to finish what I was saying.
WALLACE: It depends on how long we’re going to take to get there.
SEKULOW: Not long. Chris, he leaked the information for one purpose and one purpose only to his friend, and he said to get a special counsel, and the special counsel is appointed. So, the entire premise upon which this entire investigation has been based was based on illegally leaked information, including conversation with the president the president of the United States, and today, it’s announced that James Comey has signed a book deal where he’s going to discuss all this.
You tell me you think that’s OK?
WALLACE: I’m not asking about any of that. I’m asking about —
WALLACE: Wait a minute, Jay, you said let me let you finish, now let me finish.
The question I’m asking you is very simple. The president, his vice president, his son repeatedly denied any contacts with the Russians. Given what we’ve learned this week about the contact between a number of top campaign officials, including the president’s son, are all those denials that that’s just fake news and a hoax, are those suspect?
SEKULOW: I just answer the question on why — the president’s statements have been clear on what this was involving in his view, and I gave you just now the analysis on how in fact this investigation started.
WALLACE: But that’s not the question I asked. But let’s go if we can —
SEKULOW: Chris, let’s not go through that again. It was the question you asked —
WALLACE: No, it wasn’t. The question you — the question I asked you, Jay, is whether or not the denials are suspect? I didn’t ask you about James Comey.
SEKULOW: I do not think the denials are suspect. I do not think the denial by the president of the United States is suspect at all.
WALLACE: Here’s the email exchange in June of 2016 between Don, Jr., setting up the meeting between Don, Jr., and the Russians.
Rob Goldstone writes: The crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high-level and sensitive information that is part of Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump.
Don, Jr. responds: If that’s what you say — if it’s what to say, I love it, especially later in the summer.
Doesn’t that contradict the denial of any contact between the Trump campaign and the Russians?
SEKULOW: I mean, what it states was that there was going to be a meeting — you said the Russians, this was a lawyer who was Russian. That was — this was a lawyer who ended being — was Russian. And what took place at that meeting, and it’s been well-reported and you reported this as well, the discussions involving the Magnitsky Act and Russian adoptions. It was quickly ended. It was in the middle of a campaign.
And, look, this idea that — it may have involved opposition research which never materialized evidently. The fact is, you know, that the Ukrainians at the very same time or working with the DNC and the Clinton campaign to get, what, opposition research on Donald Trump and his associates.
WALLACE: But —
SEKULOW: So, everybody’s acting as if — OK. Go ahead.
WALLACE: Well, what I was going to say is, doesn’t it indicate — you say, well, it was a meeting about adoption, we’ll get to that in a moment.
WALLACE: But he fact of the matter is, the reason that Don, Jr. went into that room and Jared Kushner went into that room and Paul Manafort went into that room was not to talk about adoption, it’s because they had been promised —
WALLACE: — they’ve been promised by Rob Goldstone that there would be information as part of the Russian government’s effort to tip the election to President Trump.
SEKULOW: Yes, and, of course, nothing in that meeting that would have taken place, even if it was about the topic of an opposition research paper from a Russian lawyer is a legal or a violation of the law. And, by the way, I’m not the only lawyer — and you know this, Chris — most lawyers, many, I would say a vast majority of lawyers that you’ve interviewed and others have interviewed on your network and other networks, have acknowledged that the meeting itself and those proposed discussion would not have been a violation of the law.
WALLACE: But the point is, it does show intent, willingness, perhaps not actual collusion because apparently, and, in fact, none of us know what really went on to the meeting, but assuming that at least on that point everybody is telling the truth, doesn’t it show intent and willingness on the part of Don, Jr., and Jared and Paul Manafort to collude with the Russians?
And let me just point out, Natalia Veselnitskaya was not just some Russian off the street. She had close ties to people in the Kremlin.
SEKULOW: Well, number one, if it was — the discussion was going to be about — if it was going to be about Russian opposition research that a Russian lawyer had, the fact is, those goes on — you know that goes on the campaigns all the time. Opposition research is a big part of campaigning. I just gave you the example —
WALLACE: It doesn’t go on with Russians all the time, Jay.
SEKULOW: Well, now, but, look, this was — here’s what happened. First of all, nothing happened. There’d be no exchange of information. But in and of itself, that meeting, the relevancy of the differential that you just put forward, the relevancy of whether it was a Russian lawyer or other individuals that Donald Trump, Jr., knew, the fact is what took place during that meeting, even on the basis of the emails as Donald Trump, Jr., laid them out, were not violations of the statutes.
So, when you talk about Russian collusion, colluding to do what? What? Colluding to violate what law?
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