There was a tense exchange between President Donald Trump's personal attorney Jay Sekulow and CNN's Jake Tapper during a Sunday interview on CNN over news that the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., had met with a Russian attorney during the 2016 campaign. Sekulow brought up a report that a consultant to the Democrats met with Ukrainian government representatives. Sekulow sought to counter charges made against the president and Trump Jr. that they had engaged in collusion to win the presidential election. On two other Sunday shows, Sekulow reiterated the president's denials of connections to official Russians seeking to meddle in the election and any political collusion.

Sekulow said repeatedly on Sunday that Trump Jr. had not broken the law by meeting a Russian attorney in June 2016 who he had been told had damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Sekulow said that this was part of the normal "opposition research" conducted by political campaigns.

Transcript, via CNN:

SEKULOW: Well, look, I deal with -- I deal with the law. So, that's what I -- I'm the lawyer for the president. 

And campaigns involve opposition research, and the situation exchange that was released by Donald Trump Jr., and what was described there is -- is -- look at it and compare it to, for instance, the situation with the Ukrainians and the DNC and the Clinton campaign, where information actually was shared. TAPPER: The moment that there's an FBI -- the moment that there's an FBI investigation or a Senate and House Intelligence Committee investigations into Ukraine and the DNC and the Clinton campaign, I'm happy to discuss it. But that's not what's going on right now.

And I know you're...

SEKULOW: You know, isn't it interesting that there isn't one? But go ahead. Go ahead, Jake. 

TAPPER: There isn't one because nobody from the Ukrainian government met with anybody from the Clinton campaign.

But moving on from that, you're talking about the legality. And I understand you're a lawyer, but you're also a man of faith. 

SEKULOW: Right. Yes. 

TAPPER: Isn't it kind of important whether or not what Donald Trump Jr. and Manafort and Kushner did, isn't it also important, whether or not it's legal, whether or not it's wrong, whether or not it's ethical?

SEKULOW: Well, you're conflating -- so, you're conflating, Jake, three perspectives here. 

The legality, was the meeting, and what took place, legal or not? We, of course, and as almost every legal expert, says it's not illegal. And then you're trying to put a moral, ethical aspect to it. And it's easy to do that in 20/20 hindsight, but not when you're in the middle of a campaign.

And, again, I wasn't the campaign -- I'm not a campaign lawyer. I wasn't a campaign lawyer, but meetings were taking place, as Donald Trump Jr., said, 15, 20 minutes apart. This one went even shorter.

So, I think everybody that's looking backwards and saying would've, should've, could've -- and Donald Trump Jr. said he would've done some things differently. 

But to go back a year later and say this is what should've happened, when the meeting itself was 20 minutes in a series of meetings that took place for days and days and months, I think -- I don't think that's fair to Donald Trump Jr., to Jared Kushner, or to Manafort, for that matter, because no one was in the situation of that kind of campaigning in the middle of a presidential election. 

[09:05:08]

There's a lot of meetings and a lot of discussions about opposition research coming on all sides, Republican, Democrat, and independent. That's just the nature of the body politic.

TAPPER: Not with a hostile foreign -- not with the governments of hostile foreign powers, Jay. I mean, that's not normal. 

SEKULOW: Well... 

TAPPER: And you can talk about opposition research all you want, but...

SEKULOW: Yes. 

TAPPER: ... a Russian government attorney? That's how -- what this is billed at, with high-level intelligence on Hillary Clinton?

SEKULOW: Yes. 

TAPPER: I mean, for all Don Jr. knew, that was coming from the FSB, the successor to the KGB. That was coming from, you know, human intelligence or signals intelligence. 

He had no idea where it was coming from. It's not normal oppo. Normal is oppo is legally obtained.

SEKULOW: Well, the Ukrainians -- you know, I go back to the Ukrainian example. I know you don't want to discuss it because you say it's not being investigated, which raises the question. 

But, here, in the Ukrainian situation, they actually exchanged documents from a foreign government. So...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Because Paul Manafort did work -- because Paul Manafort did work in Ukraine, people in Ukraine wanted the United States to know.

SEKULOW: Yes.

TAPPER: But that was all from a legal and public hearing.

SEKULOW: Well, wait a minute -- well, wait.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I don't...

SEKULOW: He was running -- but, Jake, he was running the campaign at the time. 

So, I mean, when we're acting like this is some kind of one-off thing that never happens in campaigns, and you just stated the evidence of exactly what took place there, right.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: No. Nobody from -- nobody from the Ukrainian government met with the Clinton campaign. Again, as I said...

(CROSSTALK)

SEKULOW: That's not true. There were representatives at the Ukrainian Embassy. The Politico report was clear. Go ahead. TAPPER: Again, I know you want to change the subject.

 



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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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