Schumer warns of probe ‘cataclysm’
Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer said President Donald Trump would trigger “a cataclysm” if he fires special counsel Robert Mueller or pardons himself, even as one of the president’s lawyers said pardons aren’t being discussed.
Schumer said he can’t imagine his Republican colleagues, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, “just standing by” if Trump moves to dismiss Mueller or pardons himself or someone close to him who’s under investigation.
“It would be one of the greatest, greatest breaking of rule of law, of traditional democratic norms of what our democracy is about,” the senator from New York said Sunday on ABC’s This Week. “It would cause a cataclysm in Washington.”
While the president has the constitutional power to grant pardons — though the U.S. Supreme Court probably would have to decide whether he could pardon himself — his legal team isn’t having conversations with him about it, Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s personal attorneys, said on ABC.
“We’re not researching the issue because the issue of pardons is not on the table,” Sekulow said. “There’s nothing to pardon from.”
Trump “in all likelihood” has the power to pardon himself, but it’s not a good idea, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said on CNN’s State of the Union. “In a political sphere, I would caution someone to think about pardoning themselves or family members.”
The president and members of his inner circle are facing congressional and FBI investigations of possible collusion with Russia in its interference with the 2016 presidential election. Mueller is also examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses and those of his associates, a person familiar with the probe said.
Trump suggested in an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday that Mueller would cross “a red line” if he looked into those issues, and the president mentioned pardons as part of a series of early morning Twitter posts on Saturday.
“While all agree the U.S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us,” Trump told his 34.3 million followers on Twitter.
Sekulow’s comments seemed at odds not only with Trump’s tweet, but also with other members of his own legal team, as well as with Anthony Scaramucci.
Scaramucci, whom Trump named his new communications director on Friday, called the focus on Russia “overblown.” He said on Fox News Sunday that the president brought up the issue of pardons in the Oval Office last week and said that he doesn’t need to use them.
“There’s nobody around him that has to be pardoned,” Scaramucci said. “He was just making the statement about the power of pardons.”
“The president does not need to pardon himself,” the communications director added. “The reason that he doesn’t need to pardon himself is he hasn’t done anything wrong.”
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, John Dowd, another Trump attorney, denied news reports that Trump’s legal team was working to stymie Mueller’s probe by highlighting conflicts of interest.
Dowd described Mueller as an “honest guy” doing a “good job” and said any effort to undercut him or his investigation was “collateral nonsense.”
Trump has suggested on Twitter that Mueller and members of his legal team have conflicts of interest because of donations to Democratic political candidates — something Scaramucci, daughter Ivanka Trump, and the president himself have done in the past.
Sekulow said that while the president’s legal team is monitoring potential conflicts, it hasn’t raised any with Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who appointed Mueller after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation.
“We’re going to be constantly evaluating that situation,” Sekulow said on ABC. “And if an investigation were to arise and we thought that the conflict was relevant, we would raise it without question.”
Only Rosenstein can fire Mueller, and he’s said he won’t do it without “good cause.”
Trump is “clearly worried” about what Mueller may unearth about the Trump Organization and what’s concerning is “anything that could be held over the president’s head that could influence U.S. policy,” Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday on CBS’
Face the Nation.
Schiff said he’d also be worried if Trump wants Sessions out so he can name a new attorney general to supervise Mueller’s investigation.
“If this is part of a longer-term stratagem to define or confine the scope of the Mueller investigation, that would be very concerning,” Schiff said.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said that even if Trump is frustrated by the Russian probe, he should stop talking about the special counsel, Mueller’s staff, or the investigation.
“I know it’s hard, but he needs to step back and not comment, and let Bob Mueller, who is an individual with the utmost integrity, carry out the investigation and make his determination,” Collins said on CBS.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on CNN’s State of the Union that he’s not satisfied with an agreement announced by the panel on Thursday. It would allow Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to discuss handing over documents and be interviewed by the committee members and staff in private, ahead of a possible public hearing.
The panel previously had scheduled a hearing Wednesday and invited Trump Jr., Manafort and other witnesses. Trump Jr. has said he’s willing to testify under oath.
“I think that they need to be under oath,” Franken said. “And they need to release all the documents.”
Franken also said he wants Sessions to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about a Washington Post report that Sessions may have discussed campaign-related matters with Russia’s ambassador to Washington last year.
Franken said on CNN he believes Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, also wants Sessions to testify on the matter.
The Post reported Friday that Ambassador Sergey Kislyak told his higher-ups in Moscow that he discussed the campaign and Russian policy priorities with Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, despite public assertions to the contrary by the attorney general. Kislyak’s accounts of the conversations were intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies.
The Russian Embassy in Washington announced on Twitter that Kislyak’s tenure ended Saturday. Kislyak’s successor has not been announced.
“What I do know is what I read, which is that I guess someone in Kislyak’s position can sometimes distort what he says when he is reporting back to build himself up,” Franken said. “I also saw in those reports that Kislyak isn’t that type. And it seems to me that since Attorney General Sessions hasn’t been terribly truthful regarding these things that it’s more likely that what Kislyak was saying was the case.”
Sessions, under questioning from Franken in his January confirmation hearing, denied meeting with any Russian officials during the campaign. But the Post later reported that Sessions, who served as a top foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, met with Kislyak at least twice last year.
The revelation prompted the attorney general to recuse himself from the FBI probe of Russian interference in the election and any ties between that government and the Trump operation. Announcing the decision in March, Sessions said he had talked with Kislyak only in his capacity as a senator, not as a Trump surrogate.
The Friday report came as Sessions faces new doubts about his standing with Trump, who in an interview last week expressed frustration with the attorney general’s decision to recuse himself and said he regretted naming him to his job.