“There is no conversation regarding firing Robert Mueller!” a clearly frustrated Jay Sekulow exclaimed on ABC’s Good Morning America earlier today. George Stephanopoulos asked whether he could rule out Donald Trump cashiering the special counsel after a detailed discussion of the indictments unsealed on Monday, and Trump’s attorney says his answer hasn’t changed since the first time he’s been asked about it. It’s not a normal presidential appointment, Sekulow reminded Stephanopoulos, which means Mueller doesn’t serve at Trump’s pleasure:
Also, when asked whether the president has ruled out firing the special counsel, Robert Mueller, Sekulow said, “The president has not indicated to me or to anyone else that I work with that he’s had any intent on terminating Robert Mueller.”
“You could only terminate a special counsel for cause and we just don’t see any basis for cause,” he added.
Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, who served as Trump’s campaign manager and deputy campaign manager respectively, were indicted on 12 charges Friday and surrendered to federal authorities on Monday.
With Mueller safe, what about the defendants in these indictments and those to come? Pat Robertson yesterday urged Trump to pardon everyone involved and put an end to the investigation. Not happening, says Sekulow, and it’s not even under discussion:
“I have not had a conversation with the president regarding pardons and pardons are not on the table,” Sekulow told “GMA.”
Sekulow argues for most of the segment that there isn’t anything to pardon that relates to Trump. The Manafort-Gates indictment has nothing to do with Trump, Sekulow points out (accurately), even if it might have something to say about Trump’s judgment in bringing Manafort into the campaign. Even on that basis, Sekulow argues, the record tends to exonerate Trump’s judgment, as he pushed Manafort out after his connections to the pro-Russian Ukraine government between 2006 and 2014 became more widely known in the summer of 2016.
But what about the collusion? Stephanopoulos presses Sekulow on the Papadopoulos allocution, which details his contacts with Russians abroad during his time in the campaign, and his efforts to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin. Doesn’t that demonstrate collusion, Stephanopoulos asks? Sekulow rebuts that by pointing out that collusion requires an illegal act, and that the special counsel indictment of Papadopoulos doesn’t allege any except his false statements to investigators:
“There’s no crime of collusion,” Jay Sekulow said Tuesday on “Good Morning America” of George Papadopoulos, who admitted to making false statements and material omissions in January to investigators probing Russian interference in the 2016 election. … “The end result is the meeting doesn’t take place,” Sekulow said Tuesday.
Stephanopoulos responds that it shows “cooperation,” at least, but … that’s not collusion. I point out the difference in my column at The Week today:
The original collusion accusation was that the Trump campaign might have worked with Russian intelligence to hack emails at the DNC and of John Podesta at the Center for American Progress, not the Clinton server. The Clinton server got taken down in early 2013, more than two years before Trump ran for office. Even if Papadopoulos had somehow gotten Clinton’s “thousands of emails” from his Russian contacts, it wouldn’t necessarily have been illegal. Papadopoulos only ran afoul of the law when he lied about his contacts to investigators; he’s charged with several instances of making false statements, not of espionage.
Furthermore, the allocution suggests that the Trump campaign didn’t take the bait. They knew that Papadopoulos had gone abroad seeking contacts, but that isn’t unusual for a foreign-policy adviser. Neither would it be unusual for such an adviser to attempt to set up meetings between a candidate and world leaders, though Putin was politically radioactive by this point in the presidential campaign. The Trump campaign’s disinterest in meeting with Putin gets a mention from prosecutors in a footnote in the allocution. A campaign official, identified later as Manafort by NBC News, wrote that they “need someone to communicate that DT [Trump] is not doing these trips.”
The real risk in the Papadopoulos indictment isn’t what they found on him — it’s what Papadopoulos got later while cooperating with investigators, as Allahpundit noted in his post yesterday. The White House tried to head off speculation on that by classifying Papadopoulos as a low-level volunteer with little access to the campaign or the Trump administration, and the Politico report today from Josh Dawsey tends to affirm that. However, the real test will come when Mueller has unveiled all of his indictments, and we see just how many people got snared in the Papadopoulos trap.
Until then, Jay Sekulow will be a very busy man.