WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump is not under investigation by the prosecutor probing Russian meddling in last year's election and his possible obstruction of justice, one of his lawyers said Sunday, contradicting Trump's own tweet acknowledging the probe.
Attorney Jay Sekulow told NBC and CNN in interviews that Trump "is not under investigation by the special counsel," Robert Mueller, although Trump said Friday that Mueller is investigating him.
Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was named last month to conduct a wide ranging criminal probe whether Trump campaign aides illegally colluded with Russian officials to help Trump win and also whether Trump obstructed justice in firing another FBI director, James Comey, at a time he was leading the Russia investigation before Mueller's appointment.
Comey told lawmakers earlier this month that Trump in recent months had asked for his personal loyalty, urged him to drop the investigation of the contacts the president's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had with Russia's ambassador to Washington, and to "lift the cloud" of the Russia investigation, none of which he acceded to.
Trump at first attributed Comey's firing to a recommendation by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for his handling of an investigation last year into the use of a private email server by Trump's defeated challenger, Democrat Hillary Clinton. But Trump later acknowledged that he had already made up his mind to fire Comey before receiving the Rosenstein recommendation and that he dismissed Comey because of "this Russia thing," believing that the probe of Russian interference in the election was an excuse being used by Democrats to explain Clinton's stunning upset loss.
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In a comment Friday on his Twitter account, Trump said, "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt." Rosenstein appointed Mueller to be the special counsel in the investigation, although Mueller is actually conducting it.
Sekulow said that Trump's comment was specifically in response to a Washington Post story, quoting unnamed sources familiar with the Mueller investigation, as saying that Mueller was probing whether Trump obstructed justice in firing Comey.
Trump had earlier fired Flynn in February after just 24 days on the job after learning he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
"The tweet from the president was in response to the five anonymous sources that were purportedly leaking information to The Washington Post about a potential investigation of the president," Sekulow said. "But the president, as James Comey said in his testimony and as we know as of today, the president has not been and is not under investigation."
Comey had testified that as of the time he was fired by Trump on May 9, the FBI was not investigating Trump, but the Post story said that changed days later with Comey's firing.
"He's not afraid of the investigation. There is no investigation," Sekulow added. The lawyer told CNN the Twitter comment was made in the confines of a 140-character post and suggested that the Post report should be discounted because of its use of anonymous sources.
In Twitter comments Sunday, Trump said, "The MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN agenda is doing very well despite the distraction of the Witch Hunt. Many new jobs, high business enthusiasm, massive regulation cuts, 36 new legislative bills signed, great new S.C. Justice, and Infrastructure, Healthcare and Tax Cuts in works!"
He noted in another tweet, that the "new Rasmussen Poll, one of the most accurate in the 2016 Election, just out with a Trump 50% Approval Rating. That's higher than O's #'s!" The last reference appeared to be a comparison to Trump's predecessor, former President Barack Obama, whose own favorability ratings were often below 50 percent, although he left office in January with a 59 to 37 percent favorable-to-unfavorable standing.
The Rasmussen poll listing Trump at 50 percent approval is sharply at odds with other recent surveys showing that Americans broadly have an unfavorable view of Trump's performance during the first five months of his presidency. In its three-day tracking poll, Gallup said Friday that by a 55-to-39 percent margin, voters give Trump a negative performance rating, while Qunnipiac University earlier this month said its polling showed Trump with a 57-to-34 percent disapproval rating.