Transcript: Trump attorney Jay Sekulow's interview on ABC News' 'The Investigation' podcast

A transcript of Jay Sekulow's interview as it appears in the latest episode.

ByABC News
July 9, 2019, 4:10 AM

President Donald Trump's personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, sat down for an interview in the latest episode of "The Investigation," an an ABC News podcast. A transcript of Sekulow's most recent interview as it appears in the episode of the podcast follows here:

ABC NEWS' JOHN SANTUCCI: Welcome to "The Investigation." I'm John Santucci, senior editorial producer here at ABC. Chris Vlasto is off. But joining me today is Katherine Faulders, our White House and Capitol Hill reporter, and we wanted to zoom out and just sort of see where the road ahead looks for President Trump and his legal team. We know Robert Mueller is heading up to the Hill in the next couple of weeks, but we've got congressional investigations, investigations in New York, Southern District probes and the New York state Attorney General, so who better to break down where the road ahead leads for the president but his lead attorney? Joining us right now, President Trump's counsel, Jay Sekulow. Jay, thanks for joining us.

JAY SEKULOW: Thanks for having me, John.

SANTUCCI: So Jay you know we were thinking about it this morning as we were getting ready to speak with you. If you think about President Trump's legal team and all the iterations that it's gone through over the last two and a half years you're the last man standing, Jay, from the originals.

SEKULOW: Well, you know, I have a theory on that and that you know I'm a drummer by 40 years of playing drums or 45 years of playing drums so I've got a tempo and I think part of the success here is having the right tempo. So I think I stayed in the groove so to speak.

SANTUCCI: Well I think you're leading the band right now.

SEKULOW: You know you got to recruit new band members but you got to stay in the pocket as they say, you gotta stay in the pocket, so there you go.

SANTUCCI: If only I played drums I’d understand more of that.

SEKULOW: You would.

SANTUCCI: But listen you know where this is all moving forward now. Right. So Robert Mueller's investigation's done. He's going to be testifying in the next week we'll talk about that in a little bit. But where do you see, Jay, the legal team moving forward here? What’s the priorities for you and your colleagues in the next few months ahead?

SEKULOW: Well, right now we're dealing with House committees. You've got the Judiciary Committee and oversight. You've got ways and means. The most recent issues going to be the tax returns. So there was a lawsuit filed last week requesting the president's tax return under section 6103. The Congress is saying that words used this shall thus you must. But the Supreme Court has said that shall doesn't always mean shall there has to be a legitimate legislative purpose. We will be intervening in that lawsuit on behalf of the president. That legal team, I'll be leading that legal team and my colleagues Will Consoovoy and Patrick Strawbridge will be assisting on that when they've been doing a lot of the day to day on that. So that's where we are on that one. You have other requests coming in for members of the administration that's more of a White House counsel determination. We have the situation in in New York with the state AG that I'm supervising there are some as some subpoenas have come in, not that many I think has been three so far. And, so we're looking at all of those.

SANTUCCI: With you in your role would you say that you've sort of transitioned now to playing air traffic control?

SEKULOW: I think that’s, you know more train conductor, I mean its -

SANTUCCI: You pick your mode of transportation, whatever works for you.

SEKULOW: Yeah, no. I think I think right. I mean look - a good lawyer is going to change with the circumstances of the representation. So the representation circumstances have changed. We've gone from a situation where we were anticipating the Mueller report which we got we responded to that we ended up not responding near as aggressively as we thought we were quite frankly because the nature of the report didn't warrant it. And then you're now in this new phase I mean the Mueller testimony I suspect is going to be pretty, pretty dry. I think he's going to say my report is my testimony, my testimony is my report. So, from our perspective, I mean my perspective is you just kind of look at where the legal issues are necessary to address and you're trying to mold your team to that. So, we've got some new team members and you know you've heard of some of their names. We've got some of the other ones are still around doing different things at a much reduced level of engagement because there's - the engagement level doesn't need to be there.

ABC NEWS' KATHERINE FAULDERS: And Jay just thinking about the next thing that's on the horizon here, the next big thing which is Mueller's testimony that's coming up later this month. The president has said that Democrats just want to do a do over, you've obviously seen his tweets where he's said you know Mueller should stick to his report. John and I were talking a little bit about this before and how with advisers in the White House, Don McGahn the White House has claimed presidential immunity. How, you know, thinking about these advisers and how it relates to Mueller's upcoming testimony, how is this going to affect you know how much Mueller can talk, how much he's going to say? Is there any you know White House or legal team involvement in kind of crafting that narrative as it relates to his testimony?

SEKULOW: Well, that's more the White House counsel then, then it would be the president's personal lawyer. But I will tell you that based on my review of the situation and interaction that's taking place, my sense is that Bob is gonna to testify, he's gonna to stick to the his, he said his report is his testimony. Now, I expect his testimony is going to be his report. And I do not expect, and I've said this publicly a couple of times that he will deviate at all from that nor do I expect that he will go into anything extemporaneous or extraneous from this. I think he's going to stick to the report. I think that's going to be, in that sense, I think it's going to be the great letdown.

FAULDERS: John and I have reported before that Mueller didn't want to testify because he didn't want to be viewed as a political football on either side by the Democrats or the Republicans. Is that something you know you're going into these congressional committees to testify? There's obviously a political motive of some sort. Does that worry you at all?

SEKULOW: I'm not worried about it. I think he's in a very difficult spot because he's going to be asked questions by the Republican members of the committee as to what happened and the irregularities in the investigation. That could be Strzok and Page, that could be I’m sure Infusion G.P.S. and his wife Nellie. There's a lot of explaining to do.

SANTUCCI: So wait, so well hold on though, so when you say that you expect Republicans on the committee to ask those sorts of questions. What's been that relationship for you and the White House with the House Republicans that are sitting on these committees?

SEKULOW: I'm not, I'm not briefing them on how to do anything. You know, I've written publicly about it so they've seen that, on some op-ed's and what not, other people have too. I expect people to come up with their own. By the way I'm not gonna be surprised if Bob Muller doesn't answer it. If he just says you know what, I'm sticking my report. But I think those are questions that are going to be asked.

SANTUCCI: So but after, he testifies obviously that's going to end one chapter in a sense because I don’t think we're to see him go for another committee, but it is going to add fuel and speculation to the, are we going to see an impeachment hearing?

SEKULOW: Yeah. And you're not.

SANTUCCI: You don't think so?

FAULDERS: We’re up to 85 Democrats Jay, according to our count.

SEKULOW: OK. OK so you only have to get what another 140, 120. I mean that's- (LAUGHS) I mean- .

FAULDERS: It's growing, it's a growing number.

SANTUCCI: It’s growing, Jay.

SEKULOW: Yeah it does but it's also let's be realistic it's, it's July. It's going to be October before we turn around right? And what are they doing in October? Everything's on election mode. How many questions came up in the debate about impeachment, about the Mueller report, about the special counsel, about collusion with Russia?


SANTUCCI: You’re not wrong. You’re not wrong about that.

SEKULOW: You know I think, I think look this is that this isn't so much a legal question, it's a political question and I just don't think that they have the political. I think Nancy Pelosi I rarely agree with her but I think she's right on this. No, but she’s gonna have to deal with her caucus. But I don't think there's gonna be anything coming out of Bob Mueller's mouth that's going to say Ah-ha. But they're just looking for the gotcha moment. I don't see it.

SANTUCCI: But don't you believe, for, just to be prepared, right I mean you have your client, you've got your team. Do you even have a plan ready to go that if that was to happen you guys can snap into gear?

SEKULOW: An impeachment team?


SEKULOW: There is none. There is no impeachment.

SANTUCCI: There is none?

SEKULOW: No. No there is no impeachment team.

FAULDERS: Or a plan?

SEKULOW: No. No plan.

FAULDERS: Is that a mistake though?

SEKULOW: I don't think so. I don't think so for two reasons. Number one I do not think that's going to happen. So that's number one. Number two it's you know you're looking at what would that team look like if you had one? I don't know how different it would look than what we have already. And maybe it would, maybe more political operatives as part of it because it’s such a political question. But we're not there yet and I don't expect to get there, I just don't see. I really do not and look at you know you both have known me for a while now. I'm, you know, I don't like getting caught by surprise. But I just don't see this as a real threat. I understand the rumblings and the, and the, and the portion of the Democratic team that wants to gin this up. I'm not even sure they really want it uphill to tell you the truth. I think this is I think a lot of political theater right now. I think there's a lot of people that don't want, that are forced to say yeah, an impeachment inquiry should begin, that really don't want one.

FAULDERS: Now one of the things we've been hearing is that you just rely on the Senate. If the - if this were to happen you just rely on the Senate to exonerate the president. Is that something that you guys or at least you know thinking about?

SEKULOW: Well that's just what the Constitution says. I mean that's just simply what the Constitution says. I mean the Constitution says that they call an impeachment proceeding to begin in the house. The conviction has to take place in the United States Senate. So that's not happening and nor do I believe that there will be an impeachment proceeding in the House. I just don't see it. And that's why we're not ramping up an impeachment team. I'm not being egotistical but we haven't.

SANTUCCI: So. But I want to take you back Jay to the other topic you mentioned which was the tax returns which is the battle that's revving up in multiple lanes as you said you’re dealing with the House committees, you’re dealing with the folks up in New York State both the legislature and the state AG’s office. The president as you know spoke to George Stephanopoulos just a couple of weeks ago George and him spoke about his financial returns here's what he said to George take a listen.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: When you will see my financial statement, at some point I assume it’s gonna be released, you’ll be very impressed with the job I’ve done. Much much bigger, much much better than anybody—

ABC NEWS' GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Which financial statement?

TRUMP: Uhh, they’re after my financial statement// the Senate, they’d like to get my financial statement. At some point, I hope they get it--

STEPHANOPOULOS: You gonna turn it over?

TRUMP: No, at some point I might but at some point I hope they get it ‘cause it’s a financ--, it’s a fantastic financial statement.

SANTUCCI: So at some point you might get it Jay. Maybe he turns it over you're the lawyer would you ever let him do that?

SEKULOW: Well I would counsel, while I would counsel against it absent a valid court order because of the precedent that it would set up for future presidents so that I thinks the key here. You mentioned the New York state legislation that I don't think it’s been signed yet but maybe shortly.

SANTUCCI: That’s a bill that's been passed in the Senate and the Assembly in New York State.

SEKULOW: Congressman Neal said I don’t want them. I'm not asking for that. That's what he said. I'm not going to use that process. And the reason he's saying that is he's got lawyers that are smart enough to know if he does that first of all he gets the state returns as we get the federal returns depends on how the state returns are done. But if he does that then what's the legitimate legislative purpose of all this? It was just to get the president's tax returns to – to investigate the president that they don't have the authority to do.

SANTUCCI: OK. But then here's my question. If let's say Neal’s plan as you're saying he doesn't want to explore that venue, but let's say it his court case doesn't work. Right let's say you and the team and the Treasury are triumphant as you're bringing this all the way up to the Supreme Court. That road is closed. If they try to use this vehicle that's been created for them with New York State. How do you defend against that?

SEKULOW: Well you're saying if they try to bring it up against New York? If they use New York?

SANTUCCI: Right if they try to use New York to get the tax returns. How do you defend against that?

SEKULOW: Well we would intervene and say now wait a minute wait a minute. What is the federal purpose of them still getting it? I mean there still is what is the congressional purpose upon which they are making that request to New York? That what should be our - so this legislative purpose issue overrides everything they do. That's a constitutional requirement for the Supreme Court.

SANTUCCI: And now coming back here to D.C. So you have this case that's now, they've filed suit. How does that work? Just explain - I guess the confusing thing here is that there's so many parties that are part of this litigation right? Who, who takes the lead here though is it, is it Treasury? Is it the White House?

SEKULOW: Yes, Treasury is probably is represented by DOJ.


SEKULOW: They will take the lead. We would file a motion to intervene to assert the president's individual interests.

SANTUCCI: OK. And then who actually -

SEKULOW: It'll be granted. I can't imagine a situation where it wouldn't be granted.

SANTUCCI: Right. But then who actually does the arguing in court though?

SEKULOW: It'll be divided.

SANTUCCI: It’ll be - so there is, there is basically a world where the DOJ lawyers and the president's legal team are doing this together?

SEKULOW: I mean maybe I don't know if I'm gonna argue that one yet or wait for the court of appeals but I may and or will counsel the way and we will argue we argue a portion of it and the government will argue their portion of it. I’ve had - I mean I've had Supreme Court cases with divided argument. That's not unusual.

FAULDERS: Jay is this similar to kind of what's happening in the emoluments case - have the personal attorneys and the government attorneys.

SEKULOW: Exactly right.


SANTUCCI: And then, Jay, your expectation though is that that's going to go all the way to the Supreme Court?

SEKULOW: I think I think there's a shot that it does. I mean, I don't think it's going to happen quickly. These have not been expedited.

SANTUCCI: So well what's your timeframe? How long do you think until -

SEKULOW: Well, Supreme Courts out until October so you know the question is are they going even to get it done out of the District Court and Court of Appeals by October, November? Maybe but that’d be moving pretty quick. Let's say they did. You've got to apply for (INAUD). This is not an urgent thing where they have to you know it is impacting something they got a half or an election as an election law issue so idea you may get a decision in June the next year if it gets up there this term. If.

FAULDERS: Jay, just to kind of shift gears a little bit. Speaking about taxes is the president still under audit?



SEKULOW: Yes. So I mean these rumors that he's not - I can tell you just - I won’t disclose the context of the nature of the audit because that would be disclosing attorney client privilege. But what I am going to tell you is that there is an ongoing audit. Predated by this.

SANTUCCI: Goes all the way back to the 2016 campaign. Jay while we have you -

SEKULOW: Before then actually I think.

SANTUCCI: I’m saying that’s the first time we heard it from him.


SANTUCCI: Jay, while we have you, there's this other case that’s brewing up in New York, the feds up there have just unsealed an indictment against Jeffrey Epstein.


SANTUCCI: Obviously, the president has had a relationship with him over the years, he's been quoted speaking about him. Do you and your colleagues believe that there's any legal exposure for the president in that case?

SEKULOW: No, none whatsoever. It has been no allegations of the president committing any wrongdoing. So, the fact that he knew somebody that's now being charged again, I think that would be drawing a - an unreasonable conclusion from knowledge to engagement and criminal activity I just. There's been no allegations of that and I just don't see that.

FAULDERS: And there's obviously some allegations obviously against Alex Acosta and his involvement, his involvement in this -

SEKULOW: Yes, but the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility is looking at all of that.


SEKULOW: (inaudible) the normal way.

FAULDERS: Do you think he should step down. Do you think he should resign?

SEKULOW: I think you got wait ‘til the - I don't think you do anything until the Office of Professional Responsibility’s reviewed it. That's above my pay grade.

SANTUCCI: Right. Right well we're going to see how that all shakes out. Jay before we let you go, you know, as you said obviously Congress is still pressing ahead. There are still many probes they're going into. What do you see right now as outside of the tax returns? Outside of impeachment, what do you believe is the other area that you're paying attention to that others should be paying attention to?

SEKULOW: Well know I've got to pay attention to any, any inquiry. I mean any inquiry that's made I've got to pay attention to it because I've got a client that's being impacted by it. But I think a lot of it, I'm not saying this pejoratively, I think this is a lot of political theater right now. The American people aren't so tuned into this. So I think what's happening is this is political theater but it's the way our constitution is set up. Then you have the challenges of whether they're exercising their appropriate separation of powers, powers, the powers they have as Congress and those will be reviewed on a case by case basis and determinations on response will be reviewed on a case by case basis. As you both know, as every other president has done. This is not something out of a vacuum here. This is, there's a long history of when you do and when you do not comply with a congressional request.

SANTUCCI: Last question we have not seen Rudy Giuliani in a while.

SEKULOW: Well that's in part because he has been traveling all over the world as he does and he is, right now, there's, we don't have, that doesn't mean we won't see him next week. I mean you know you may see him when the Mueller testimony is rolled out. It's just this is the nature of where we are. He’s still part of a still part of the team still. So I speak to him regularly. And he’s still part a valued member of the team. But just right now it's, it's July, team.

SANTUCCI: Jay Sekulow, thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

SEKULOW: Thanks for having me.

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