President Trump's personal attorney Jay Sekulow sat down for an interview for the latest episode of “The Investigation," an ABC News podcast focused on the probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller. A transcript of Sekulow's interview as it appears in the episode of the podcast follows here:
ABC NEWS' KYRA PHILLIPS: Jay, thanks so much for being here.
JAY SEKULOW: Thanks for having me.
PHILLIPS: Let's get right to it.
PHILLIPS: I mean Trump and the White House. You made it clear that this report - complete exoneration. But is it really? Because the special counsel states while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime it also does not exonerate him.
SEKULOW: This is as to the obstruction allegation?
SEKULOW: So, let me put it in context what happens here. The special counsel is part of the United States Department of Justice unlike when Ken Starr was the independent counsel and they operate independently outside the Department of Justice guidelines. The special counsel - because no one liked the way the whole Whitewater-Clinton investigation went. There was bipartisan support to get away from that approach. They went with a special counsel regulation. So, he is part of the Department of Justice, so here's what happens. He comes - the special counsel investigates us for two years. They have these conclusions of facts he calls and the quote was difficult facts and law. Both are difficult. So, you've got difficult facts and law. He could not come to a conclusion on the obstruction issue. He says he uses the word, while we're not charging the pres - would not say that there was criminality here. We're not in a position to exonerate. That's an interesting line, by the way, because exonerate is normally not what a prosecutor does.
ABC NEWS' JOHN SANTUCCI: What is the word they should use, though?
SEKULOW: Decline. Because that's what it is.
SEKULOW: I mean that's normally what you would say. But Bill Barr said in there, they were out they were operating at that point outside of normal prosecutorial judgment here. In other words, what they did was they could not make the decision and they did what's appropriate within the Department of Justice guidelines. So, they took the issue to what it appears - based on everything I'm reading - to the Office of Legal Counsel which is the institutional agency inside the Department of Justice that looks at novel theories of law and complex facts and makes a determination whether that is something that would be actionable or not. And in this particular case it was not just the OLC. It was the OLC - Office of Legal Counsel, the Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein, who's been involved in it from the outset, and then also ultimately Bill Barr.
PHILLIPS: In your opinion, was this a weak move?
SEKULOW: Well, I don’t - you know, you say he's getting criticized for it. Right? Because he didn't make the conclusion, but he didn't make the conclusions –
PHILLIPS: Cause it’s like you are not guilty. But you're also not innocent?
SEKULOW: Yeah. And again you know if this was a normal case it would be a declination. I mean that's what it would be they just would have issued one sentence saying - because we could, we could not, you know, we were dealing with difficult issues of law and fact we declined. He decided not to go there. That was the prerogative of the special counsel. It's not the prerogative of the Department of Justice, though, they have to put it back within how they operate.
ABC NEWS' CHRIS VLASTO: Let me ask you - Ty Cobb came on this podcast and he said that Bob Mueller was an American hero.
VLASTO: Do you agree?
SEKULOW: I'm not going to get into the personal, you know, positions on how I feel about Bob Mueller or anybody else. I will say this - I am glad that Bob Mueller concluded the investigation. I am glad that and pleased that my client, which we knew from the outset there was no collusion, that the determination ultimately by the Department of Justice that there was no obstruction. I think some of the things that took place under Bob Mueller’s watch were not good. And I think anybody that was fair and objective would have said that the conversations between the lead agent Peter Strzok and Lisa Page was inappropriate and it was there - that took place for months while they were working there and I’ve always ask the question what happened to that evidence that was gathered in that six month or six week period? Then, their phones were wiped clean. I just think those were unusual things. I'm not going to - I'm not going to take a personal attack on Bob Mueller. I respect that Bob Mueller’s service to the United States, in the military, as a lawyer, I'm not going to get into that. You know my job is? My job was to defend my client. And that's what my job.
VLASTO: But do you think we're going to be wait - do think we're going to be in a situation now where the Democrats who have been saying that Bob Mueller was a hero. Now, they're going to start criticizing him and now Republicans are going to go the other way?
SEKULOW: So here's what I tell my friends in the House and Senate that are wanting to do these oversight hearings. OK, here's what Bob Mueller got. 2,800 subpoenas, he executed 500 search warrants, obtained 230 orders for communication records, issued 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers – you know, it’s following phone numbers, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence, and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses. And if you take them just at their word, of what Bob Mueller said in his reported here no obstruction and a difficult questions of law in fact and ultimately the department of justice saying no obstruction. So no collusion, no obstruction. Why are the House and Senate gonna put all these people that had been subject to this for two years and have their lives turned upside down -most of which were not, you know, we know the few that have been charged, but we know 500 have not been and put their lives upside down again for a political theater. I think it is really, really wrong.
SANTUCCI: But Jay you are one of the 81 individuals that were contacted by the House Judiciary Committee.
SEKULOW: Yes. Yes.
SANTUCCI: Do you comply now?
SEKULOW: Well, look - what they asked me for it was easy for me to respond to. So what they asked me for was information that I had, documents that they said that may be in your possession that you turned over to the special counsel. Well as the - I'm not the White House counsel, I'm the private lawyer, so I don't have the notes between you know this individual in the White House and that individual. So my answer was to comply was easy. We did not turn over those - We didn't turn over documents to the White House.
SANTUCCI: So what's your legal advice to the Trumps?
SEKULOW: Oh I think here that - there's questions of jurisdiction. There are questions of propriety. There are questions of asked and answered - many of these witnesses have been before these committees for 20 hours to bring them back. Why would you bring a witness back in now? Let's take Senate Intel or House Intel - when they've investigated themselves for two years? They may not have like the conclusion and Bob Mueller was allowed to do his investigation unimpeded. And Bill Barr says it was the –
PHILLIPS: Should Congress get whole report?
SEKULOW: I think you do get - I mean I think what's going to happen on the report - I mean this is obviously not my call. I think what's going happened on the report is there - and I think they’re moving really - I mean this was amazingly quick because some of us were thinking over the weekend, we may be doing this for a week without seeing this. When I say this I'm holding in my hand the letter from - that Bill Barr issued. He got it on Friday at 5 o'clock and by Sunday at 5o'clock we had something. So I think that's a pretty historic. So when you look at that I think are going to move expeditiously on releasing as much material as they can consistent with the regulations. And I think that will happen.
VLASTO: Well what about, you know, the other thing that exists there are many prosecutors are pleading - How many people pled guilty like Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and now there's even the Roger Stone case. Do you think the president will pardon them now?
SEKULOW: I've had no conversations with anybody about pardons. That's not something that's on the table or being discussed. Look, there's no question the president has the authority to pardon we know that. I mean that's just what the Constitution says. But there's no ongoing conversations in this regard. And I think that whether the president were ever to decide to exercise it - that would really be something that would be handled internally within the Department of Justice and the White House really the White House prerogative.
VLASTO: Right but -
SEKULOW: Certainly not the private counsel.
VLASTO: No, but when you look also though at the Roger Stone case that's going to happen in November. Here's a guy who maybe lied, maybe lied, about something that wasn't a crime.
VLASTO: Right? So it’s -
SEKULOW: So, they’re going to prosecute him for that.
VLASTO: Well, yeah. It’s, it's --
SEKULOW: I mean, that’s, to me that's you know I think it raises a lot of issues if I was his defense lawyers. There's a lot of issues I would raise going through that. I'm sure, he does have a very good defense lawyers and I'm sure they'll do the appropriate thing in his defense. That's not my job that's not my call. But they have defenses.
PHILLIPS: Chuck Schumer is wanting to see all the source material.
PHILLIPS: The investigative file.
PHILLIPS: What do you think about that?
SEKULOW: Well that's up to that's really up to the Department of Justice because we have separation of powers here and each branch of government has a different function and what they can show that they're comfortable showing. They certainly shouldn't be showing 6e material. Because if you were a prosecutor or I was a prosecutor and we released to the public 6e material we would be committing a crime.
PHILLIPS: I would think the White House wouldn't want all of that released. I mean Don McGahn talked for 30 hours. I mean is that something?
SEKULOW: I mean there’s executive privilege material - I mean they let him go in. But they did not waive executive privilege. I think all of that has to be looked at. But, again that's going to be the job of a Pat Cipollone and Emmett flood and the president with the Department of Justice. That's not a job that I will have or any of my colleagues.
PHILLIPS: Because if it is not all released isn't Congress going to step forward and say well what are you hiding? What's the White House hiding? We should be able to see everything.
SEKULOW: Well, let's be real. But let's take that step by step. Let's start with what was the big issue in all of this. What started this? Russian collusion with the Trump campaign or associates of Trump campaign. And there's one thing that's crystal clear in this document. There was none. That was the - and we had members of Congress go on your network and other networks saying we know it, the evidence is right there, we're seeing it, we have it, we know there's more than collusion, since somebody called it treason and it all focused on that meeting in Trump Tower in June of 2017 and the end result of all of that - the end result of all of this issue, was there was nothing there.
SANTUCCI: You know Jay when you look back over the last year -
SEKULOW: That may be 2016, I may have had the year wrong.
SANTUCCI: No it was 2016. The - when you look back over the stretch, I mean you are the only member of the legal team that survived round one.
SEKULOW: Sole survivor.
SANTUCCI: Yeah you're the sole survivor the only one still on the ship.
SEKULOW: I have a theory about that.
SANTUCCI: What's that?
SEKULOW: You know I'm a drummer. So -
SANTUCCI: We've heard this.
PHILLIPS: I knew this was coming in here somewhere. Then he’s going to plug his band
SANTUCCI: Going to do a concert.
PHILLIPS: And next thing you know he’s going to be live on GMA concert series.
SANTUCCI: Totally. Yeah, exactly.
SEKULOW: You go to Facebook and you look up the Jay Sekulow band you would see really good music on Facebook.
SANTUCCI: Want to give your website too while we're here?
SEKULOW: No the band just go to Facebook. Jay Sekulow band Facebook.
PHILLIPS: Did you bring your drums?
SEKULOW: Huh? I did not. But here's the thing. I think that - look I've worked with a lot of great lawyers over the last two years on this and I think I had - kept the right tempo.
SANTUCCI: OK, there’s your little drumming reference there.
SEKULOW: Kept the tempo.
SANTUCCI: If I can for a second, though, you know, just thinking about all the things that you guys fought over this year with special counsel right? You've been in there with Bob Mueller, you've been in there with James Quarles his chief deputy. You know one of the things that we saw play out for quite some time is that your client did not want to sit for an interview. You fought that tooth and nail.
SEKULOW: Well, I will tell you his lawyers didn't want him to sit for an interview. He was convinced early on that he wanted to sit for an interview
SANTUCCI: That changed though.
SEKULOW: That changed when his lawyer said that's not how it works.
SANTUCCI: Are you surprised -
PHILLIPS: But also John Dowd was a little nervous, remember John Dowd told us they were a little nervous of Trump not having scripted responses.
SEKULOW: Well, let me tell you this, If I was representing you and they asked to go speak to you, voluntarily. You know what I would tell them? No. Because that's what a lawyer would do. Why would I do that? You're not going to - especially if you had the compulsion percentages were so low. And here the compulsion percentages were so low because they had a difficult time making a subpoena claim.
SANTUCCI: But here's my question though, for all the pressure and the back and forth that you had for the last two years to this - are you surprised that the president did not ultimately get forced to sit for an interview? Wasn’t subpoenaed by Bob Mueller?
SEKULOW: I think one thing that Ty and John did well was they gave a - they did a lot of things well - but the providing that amount of material and that amount of witness interviews under the Espy standard which is the District of Columbia D.C. Court of Appeals standard on when you could really interview someone like a president. You have to show that you could not get the information from any place else, so I think they may have had an internal conversation within the special counsel's office and DOJ. It never - obviously never raised to a level of where the acting attorney general had to override them. So, that means they didn't go with a formal request for the interview.
SANTUCCI: But it's interesting you say that because we saw over the course of this probe many people actually criticized Ty Cobb for opening house - giving so many documents, letting so many people sit down. So in hindsight that actually seemed in your mind to be a good move now?
SEKULOW: I always thought cooperation was smart, but cooperation didn't mean we're just going to send the president over and say OK here's four hours talk to the president of the United States, especially when you've given all of that information. So, I think what John and Ty put forward in the beginning of this served the country and the president well.
VLASTO: Obviously Donald Trump had a really good weekend. But, you know, there was another thing that happened, though, last week that doesn’t bode too well for the president. Those search warrants that were filed in the Michael Cohen case that were still redacted. That actually suggested, that, that investigation is still ongoing. What do you make of that? Is the president – does the president have exposure on that?
SEKULOW: No, I mean look, we've got really competent lawyers that are handling the Southern District claim on the campaign. That is - I personally, as someone that litigated the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, it was called McCain-Feingold. I did that case at the Supreme Court of the United States, challenging provisions of it. I - the challenge, the provisions I challenge I won unanimously, struck them unanimously - to make that into a campaign - Michael Cohen pled to a non-crime. That's what he pled - cause in any other context. It was not like it was campaign money utilized, so he pled to a non-crime that was his decision. His lawyer’s decision – that’s not for me to question -
VLASTO: Why do you think they redacted it though?
SEKULOW: Well that doesn't mean - it doesn't mean that they're not looking at it. That they're not done with it. But I am not of the view that that's going anywhere. I am of the view that that's not going anywhere.
SANTUCCI: So then Jay when you do look at the prospect of him, I mean we just panned this out right? You've got well over half a dozen congressional investigations in the House and the Senate, you have SDNY with the campaign, you have SDNY also looking into the Trump inaugural, you’ve got about five -
SEKULOW: Now on that one, let me say something about the inaugural.
SANTUCCI: Go with that one, sure.
SEKULOW: So that is, you know, because as a separate entity we’re completely not involved in that at all.
PHILLIPS: So, you’ve not been involved in that at all?
SANTUCCI: So, you’ve not been contacted?
SEKULOW: We're not involved in that at all.
SANTUCCI: So no requests? We saw a subpoena go to the inaugural committee, but nothing to Donald Trump, the Trump family, the Trump organization nobody.
SEKULOW: Correct. Right.
SANTUCCI: But now what about the other state cases we see? You have a hard charging state attorney in New York. I mean Donald Trump says his home state is going to be the one to hurt him the hardest when this is all over. But they are actively trying to bring witnesses in from the Trump organization come and speak with them.
SEKULOW: This is, on the, are you talking about on the state?
SANTUCCI: Yeah. New York state agent.
SEKULOW: So some of that's on the charity. So, again, which is a civil thing not a criminal matter. I think look there's a lot of news reports about what's actually happening. But as someone that knows what's happening, because I’m one of the lawyers involved in what's happening, I could tell you that what has been reported is not accurate. As far as the scope and nature of documents that are coming or request for documents because it's nothing like that.
SANTUCCI: So, you don't feel that many people believe that is a wide ranging massive investigation. You don't sense that?
SEKULOW: Well, look. Here's what I would say. The fact is that if the investigation is based on Michael Cohen's testimony who pled to perjury and then went before the United States Congress and perjured himself again that, that would be hard pressed for the Southern District - it’s again going to reliable evidence, is probably not a really good move and I think smart prosecutors would say maybe that's not so smart.
PHILLIPS: Are Democrats ever going to see Donald Trump as a legitimate president?
SEKULOW: Well they may have no choice because he may see him for another six years and I think, look I think, this invest -- if the basis of illegitimacy was this notion of collusion with Russia, which is what it was. I think that has been completely dismissed here. You know the obstruction, remember, was kind of the after the effect.
PHILLIPS: But everybody’s hammering open, hammering this open question of obstruction. That's what everybody talking about and hammering.
SEKULOW: Yeah, but that's a different question. So, the illegitimacy
PHILLIPS: Dems are going to hammer that all the way to November 3rd 2020.
SEKULOW: They got to be careful because I think there's going to be a wear out period here. The Supreme Court of the United States, when they’ve looked at obstruction cases, if you look at what happened in obstruction cases over the last - I'm a Supreme Court litigator. Over the last 20 years, most obstruction cases have been reversed 9 to 0. And I think what happened here. The Department of Justice wasn't going to take some novel theory of obstruction of justice and roll it roll the dice against the president of the United States.
VLASTO: Well, and also it becomes a political issue of which already now the attorney general and Rod Rosenstein, also, you know made a decision. So, you're not going to get enough votes.
SEKULOW: Of course not.
VLASTO: So. So in Congress to impeach him on obstruction that would be ridiculous.
SEKULOW: Right. Well I think so what they're going to. So, I think this over investigating mentality after the Mueller report and after the scope of nature of what they were able to get with it. Like I said, the thousands of subpoenas and hundreds of witnesses, it only makes it not only makes the house redundant it makes it look really vindictive.
SANTUCCI: So, there's one document that, correct me if I'm wrong that Bob Mueller did not get. Donald Trump's tax returns. We know Congress wants them.
SEKULOW: Did not ask for them.
SANTUCCI: OK. Now what about Congress? They're going for it. We know ways and means is already drafting letters
SEKULOW: they're going to ask for them.
SANTUCCI: And do – you’re the lawyer.
SEKULOW: There’s rules and regulations on disclosure of tax reforms even to the government.
SANTUCCI: OK, so now, but in this fight you're going to defend the president since the president the individual with his tax returns, right?
SEKULOW: So, sure. There’d be a joint interest there - between the White House because they would have Article Two issues that they would raise - a sitting president having his tax returns taken by a committee. And then of course as private lawyers you represent the taxpayer. So, in that the particular case is the President
SANTUCCI: OK, so, pull out your crystal ball. Do Democrats get the tax return?
SEKULOW: I don't think so.
SEKULOW: Because the law will not - what is the investigative purpose for them to have his tax returns? Because all of these committee sit. They have to have jurisdiction. Right? They have to have what is the causal, colorable claim that you're investigating impacting legislation? And what is the legislation? Are they going to pass the Donald Trump Tax Reform Act? Well, they're not.
VLASTO: Could they use that New York Times story that came out over the last year of that showed -
SEKULOW: Going back 35 years.
VLASTO: Well. But -
SEKULOW: Statues of limitations have long expired on that. And again that was that was a story that did not have the lawyers that represented Fred Trump, the father, presenting cases. No, I don't think so, I think where’s the. What is the legit – the standard is on these inquiries - what's the legitimate legislative purpose? What is their legislative purpose in asking for the tax return? And that probably gets litigated.
PHILLIPS: Don’t we want to know how he spent his money? If he - if there is no sign of tax fraud, I mean we want to know about his financials, we want to know about his real estate.
SEKULOW: But we would be the Internal Revenue Service. We would not be the United States Congress. They're not investigators. As far as conducting investigations on individuals, they can't call you and say we want you to, we want to take, we know the IRS audited you were ready and cleared you. We don't really like that. So, we want your tax returns. How would you feel about that? Not so good. Right? Because why you just went through an IRS audit, because they’re agency charged with doing that investigation. Not the United States Congress.
PHILLIPS: I've been through an audit. It's no fun.
SEKULOW: I was an IRS lawyer.
PHILLIPS: You were probably the one that went after me, thanks Jay.
SEKULOW: No I wasn't, because I’m much older than you were when it was a long time ago.
VLASTO: All right. Are you done now? Is your job over?
SEKULOW: No, it is – it changes. Obviously, this was a big issue on my plate. That has been removed and I'm very grateful, as is my family and my grandkids that this is now done. My grandson told me yesterday he said good job papa. I said thank you. My granddaughters were sending me videos. And that was nice.
VLASTO: But wait what did Donald Trump say to you?
SEKULOW: He's very pleased. I mean I don't want to ever disclose conversations that were obviously that would be sensitive that - I could tell you that he's very pleased with the conclusion.
PHILLIPS: Does he want you to stay on and help with the other investigations?
SEKULOW: Yes, yes. I mean the president wants us to continue. I mean especially in the Congressional stuff. I'm a tax lawyer, so if the tax returns become an issue those are my kind of things too.
SANTUCCI: Last question you've argued before the Supreme Court. You've had a storied career. You were telling me that your father passed away right before you got hired to be Donald Trump's lawyer. Where does this rank for you in your career?
SEKULOW: Well, I’ll tell you, the most important case I ever handled. Clearly number one. I said to you, John, that my dad passed away about a month before I was retained by the president. And my father was a political junkie. I mean he loved politics he followed it and he would have - he lived in they lived in Boca Raton and then he moved to we were from New York and Long Island - he moved down to Boca. And my mother passed away about 20 years before and my dad and I was very close with my mother too my dad and I were really close, and he - there’s a Yiddish expression he could – Kvell in this stuff. This would - I could see him. They sit around me like the poker table in Boca or in the villages and he'd be saying what does your son do? Well my son is a doctor. Oh is he the head of the department? Well OK. What does your son do? He represents the president. So, yesterday when all this hit, I told this to my wife last night. When I got back, I spoke to you and I was it was late and I told my wife last night. I said I really miss my dad. I mean I think this would have been - this would've been something I really would want to share with dad. But I will say this that my two boys who are both men with children, are grown adults with children were great yesterday. My oldest is a lawyer and worked on the case and he was very excited, but also very kind of emotional he sent me a nice note about my grandkids, my youngest son, who runs a lot of our media operations. He's a comedian also. And it's funny, but they said this is for your grandchildren, was a big moment. And I look, I wanted it to end well for my client, I wanted it to end well for the country. I think look, one thing if Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, Green Party, whatever you are, I think one good news here that everybody can agree on no Russian collusion with a campaign. I think that's good for the American people.
SANTUCCI: Jay Sekulow, thanks very much.