WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyers said in television interviews on Sunday that the president was not under investigation for obstruction of justice, but when pressed on the assertion, said he was not certain.
“The fact of the matter is the president has not been and is not under investigation,” Jay Sekulow, a new member of Trump’s legal team, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” in one of four interviews he gave on Sunday.
There have been multiple news reports and a tweet from Trump himself on Friday that began with: “I am being investigated.”
Challenged on “Fox News Sunday” about the issue, Sekulow said he could not be certain Trump was not under investigation but that no one had notified the legal team if that was the case.
It is common for subjects of federal investigations not to know they are under scrutiny, especially in the initial phases.
A source familiar with the Mueller probe said on Thursday that investigators would have to gather a large amount of evidence before an interview with the president would be warranted.
Trump, who has denied any collusion between his campaign and Russia, has frequently lashed out about the allegations, which have overshadowed his administration’s efforts to overhaul the healthcare system, cut taxes and boost jobs.
Mueller, the special counsel named by the Justice Department to probe the Russia matter, is investigating whether anyone associated with Trump or his campaign had any illegal dealings with Russian officials or others with ties to the Kremlin. Russian officials have denied meddling in the U.S. election.
The source familiar with the Mueller probe told Reuters that Mueller was also examining whether Trump or others tried to interfere with the investigation.
Sekulow said that Trump, in his tweet, was reacting to a story in the Washington Post, which was the first to report Mueller was examining whether Trump had tried to obstruct the probe by firing FBI Director James Comey in May.
Sekulow acknowledged that he could not be certain that the report was false.
“I cannot read the mind of the special prosecutor,” he said.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for the Mueller team, declined to comment.
Sekulow, a conservative activist and radio talk-show host, earlier this month joined Trump’s legal team, which is led by Marc Kasowitz.
Sekulow has publicly criticized Comey, whom Trump fired.
In addition to being the author of several books such as “Undemocratic: How unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats are stealing your liberty and freedom,” Sekulow is the chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a politically conservative Christian organization.
Barak Cohen, a former Justice Department lawyer and now a defence attorney specializing in white-collar crime and investigations, said there was no requirement that the special counsel notify Trump he was under investigation, so the lack of such notice meant nothing.
He said, however, that Sekulow’s comments could mean the White House was taking the position that no investigation exists until Mueller’s team officially confirms it, disregarding media reports based on anonymous sourcing.
Cohen said the first official communication that a target is under investigation typically comes when prosecutors begin requesting documents and other evidence. At that time, defence lawyers often will ask about their clients’ status.
Prosecutors will often answer then to avoid misleading the target. They may not answer if they are trying to build a case and develop further evidence.
“No answer is probably the most troubling answer in criminal defence,” Cohen said.
Additional reporting by Howard Schneider, Anthony Lin, Brendan Pierson, Karen Freifeld and Roberta Rampton; Writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Caren Bohan and Peter Cooney