In addition to the "ludicrous" argument that the President of the United States cannot by definition obstruct justice, the overnight fallout generated by a memo by President Donald Trump's legal team obtained and then published online by the New York Times on Saturday also includes those expressing deep concern over how the president's personal attorney Jay Sekulow openly admits in the document—despite earlier and repeated denials to the contrary—that Trump did, in fact, help orchestrate a misleading statement about the now infamous "Trump Tower meeting" in which Donald Trump Jr. hoped to receive political dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russian nationals during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Appearing on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday morning, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara reacted to the revelations by saying, "There's no wiggle room. They said the president had nothing to do with that statement by Donald Trump Jr."
He further explained why the admission by Sekulow contained in the memo is so troubling:
Former US Attorney Preet Bharara on the dictated Donald Trump Jr. statement: “I think the important thing … is that you have the lawyer to the President of the United States ... basically lie to the American people” #CNNSOTU https://t.co/d1zVfx05aE
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) June 3, 2018
As CNN documented with the examples below, both Sekulow and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued repeated denials last year that President Trump had any direct involvement in the crafting of the statement:
Trump lawyer Sekulow, CNN interview, 7/12/17: "That was written, no that was written by Donald Trump Jr. and I'm sure with consultation with his lawyer. That wasn't written by the president."Sekulow, ABC interview, 7/12/17: "The president didn't sign off on anything. He was coming back from the G20. The statement that was released Saturday was released by Donald Trump Jr., I'm sure in consultation with his lawyers. The President wasn't involved in that."Sekulow, NBC interview, 7/16/17: "The President was not — did not — draft the response. The response came from Donald Trump Jr. and — I'm sure — in consultation with his lawyer. ... Let me say this — but I do want to be clear — that the President was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement. It came from Donald Trump Jr.Sekulow, statement to the Washington Post, 7/31/17: "Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent."White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, daily press briefing, 8/1/17: "He certainly didn't dictate, but he -- like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do."
On NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday morning, host Chuck Todd pressed another member of Trump's personal legal team, Rudy Giuliani, to explain the discrepancies as he compared Sekulow's on-air statements last year with the admission contained in the January memo:
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— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) June 3, 2018
Writing for Mother Jones, and referencing Donald Jr.'s account to Congress in closed-door testimony, journalist David Corn also said the new revelations could be a "big problem" for Trump, his eldest son, or both:
Trump Jr. certainly did not inform the committee that his father had dictated the statement. In fact, he made it seem as if Trump was marginally involved, if at all. Yet according to the letter written by Trump’s own lawyers, Trump was in charge of the statement.
Trump Jr.’s remarks to the committee conveyed an inaccurate impression and can be seen as an attempt to provide cover for his pop. They might even be considered false statements. By the way, it’s a crime to lie to Congress.
While it remains unclear what exactly Trump knew—if anything—prior to the meeting, his role in crafting the message will surely intensify scrutiny of the classic question formulation: What did the president know and when did he know it?
As part of the intrigue, several news outlets reported last month on the revelation that Donald Jr. "made several mysterious phone calls to blocked numbers before and after the Trump Tower meeting." According to The Daily Beast:
On the day he arranged the meeting the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, Trump Jr. placed two calls to blocked numbers. After the meeting ended without the promised dirt, Trump Jr. placed another call to a blocked number.
When asked if his father used a blocked number on any phone, Trump Jr. told the committee: "I don’t know." Trump's campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, on the other hand, testified that Trump's "primary residence has a blocked [phone] line."
Asked directly if he had told his father about the meeting, Trump Jr. said, "I never discussed it with him at all."
Those comments do not square easily with what President Trump's own personal attorney admitted to the special counsel.
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) June 3, 2018