WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will not unconditionally cooperate with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s recently opened investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and any possible coordination with the Trump campaign, a defense lawyer for Trump signaled Sunday.
The lawyer, Jay Sekulow, also questioned the appropriateness of Mueller’s advance review of the prepared testimony former FBI Director James B. Comey delivered last week to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Although noting Trump said Friday he would answer Mueller’s questions under oath, Sekulow declined to rule out ordering at some later date the firing of the widely praised Mueller, who preceded Comey as FBI director.
“The president is going to seek the advice of his counsel and inside the government as well as outside,” Sekulow said on ABC’s “This Week,” adding, “I’m not going to speculate on what he will or will not do.”
Sekulow’s position points out the complexity created by the parallel congressional and criminal investigations into what happened during the campaign and its aftermath. Mueller’s inquiry also now might include questions about whether Trump tried to influence the FBI investigation.
Comey has made clear he vetted his testimony with Mueller and his aides to avoid revealing information that might compromise the special counsel’s pursuit of possible criminal wrongdoing.
Yet by doing so, Comey provided Trump’s defense team an opening to question his coziness with Mueller. The two worked together during the George W. Bush administration when Comey was deputy attorney general and Mueller was FBI director, a position he kept until late 2013, when Comey succeeded him.
“What is the role of the special counsel here?” asked Sekulow, who is chief counsel for the Washington-based American Center for Law and Justice. “The special counsel allowed James Comey to testify. James Comey said he reviewed his testimony with the special counsel ... . I think this is unprecedented.”
Comey, in his appearance before the Senate panel Thursday, said Trump pressured him to end the FBI’s investigation of Michael Flynn shortly after Flynn resigned as the president’s national security adviser. Flynn was forced out after the Washington Post reported he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about Flynn’s flurry of contacts during the presidential transition with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.
In comments to reporters Friday, Trump disputed some of Comey’s recollections and denied he had in any way sought to obstruct the investigation.
The conflicting characterizations invite a contest between the credibility of the president and the man he had inherited as FBI director.
When asked Friday about the existence of any tape recordings of his conversations with Comey, Trump told reporters he would provide the answer “within a fairly short period of time,” adding, “Oh, you’re going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer. Don’t worry.”
Sekulow declined Sunday to commit Trump to releasing any recordings.
“That’s a decision that the president will make in consultation with his chief lawyer, Marc Kasowitz,” Sekulow said, adding Trump would “address it next week.”
Three senators said Sunday that Trump should now divulge or acknowledge any such tapes.
“If there are tapes — and the president’s equivocal on this — bring those tapes forward,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who serves on the Intelligence Committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“He should give a straight yes or no answer to the ... question of whether or not the tapes exist,” said another committee member, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “I don’t understand why the president doesn’t clear the matter up.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York said, “He should make them public right away. If there aren’t tapes, he should let that be known. No more game playing.” Schumer appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Trump, for his part, did not entirely delegate Sunday’s advocacy duties to Sekulow and other surrogates.
At 5:29 a.m., the president’s Twitter account posted criticism of Comey — focusing on the former FBI director’s acknowledgment to the Senate committee that he had used an intermediary to leak to the news media the existence of notes he had kept memorializing his private conversations with Trump.
“I believe the James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible,” said Trump’s tweet. “Totally illegal? Very ‘cowardly!’ ”