Behind the radio microphone, President Trump’s lawyer targets his client’s tormentors
Hunched over a microphone in his radio studio, Jay Sekulow worked himself into a fury over revelations that the FBI didn’t save five months of text messages between a senior agent and a lawyer who initially worked on the criminal investigation of President Trump’s campaign and White House.
“This looks like obstruction of justice!” Sekulow thundered. “I mean, come on! Missing, destroyed evidence!”
But Sekulow isn’t just any radio shock jock. He is one of Trump’s three lawyers, and he uses his daily, hour-long talk show to rail against the Justice Department and the investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential race and possible obstruction of justice in the Oval Office.
“If it’s in the news, I’ve got to cover it,” Sekulow said in an interview.
Normally, a president facing potential legal jeopardy relies on lawyers who carefully craft every public statement. But, like Trump, who has broken the mold on what’s presidential behavior and what isn’t, Sekulow follows a different path.
“It’s not typical, but this isn’t a typical client,” said Solomon L. Wisenberg, a white-collar defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor who questioned then-President Clinton in 1998 for a federal grand jury investigating his affair with a White House intern.
Wisenberg offered a warning from his experience facing a backlash from Clinton’s allies — veteran prosecutors are probably more incentivized than intimidated when a president’s lawyers or proxies try to discredit them.
“It’s a motivator,” he said. “If you think it has the effect of scaring anybody, you’re quite wrong.”
Sekulow, who is 61, said he’s never talked with Trump about his daily diatribes on “Jay Sekulow Live!” Last June, the Brooklyn-born lawyer told his listeners that he was joining the presidential legal team.
“If the president of the United States asks you for legal advice, and you’re a lawyer, and you’re serving your country and the Constitution, you do it,” Sekulow said.
As chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a Washington-based advocacy group that focuses on religious issues, Sekulow has played a major role in the conservative legal world for years. He has argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and advised President George W. Bush on judicial nominees.
His group channeled religious advocacy into a legal crusade. By focusing on free speech issues, it won cases involving Bible club meetings in public schools and a Ten Commandments monument in a city park.
Sekulow launched his radio show more than two decades ago, and his website claims the show is broadcast on more than 1,050 stations, many with a Christian theme, and on SiriusXM satellite radio. It’s also streamed online through social media. He also does a weekly cable TV show that appears on several religious channels.
He often riffs on the news, such as the federal shutdown or recent anti-government protests in Iran. But he also opines about issues he’s handling as Trump’s lawyer, a tactic that other defense lawyers said may not always serve the president’s best interests.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Alan Dershowitz, a constitutional and criminal law scholar who is emeritus professor at Harvard Law School. “He risks offending decision-makers. On the other hand, he could also create a more positive atmosphere related to his client.”
Michael Koenig, a former federal prosecutor who now works as a defense attorney, sees a clear risk for the White House. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to taunt the government,” he said.
Sekulow insists he doesn’t criticize Mueller directly, focusing his ire on those who started the investigation before Mueller was appointed last May. But it’s sometimes hard to see the difference.
Sekulow, who once called for a second special counsel to investigate the Justice Department, also alleged a broad conspiracy against Trump by top law enforcement officials, including Andrew McCabe, a veteran lawman who is the FBI’s deputy director.
During a December show, his son and frequent co-host, Jordan Sekulow, said McCabe “should likely be going to jail. Here’s why. There was some plan put together in his office to either undermine the president if he got elected — so an attempted coup.”
Sekulow chimed in: “A soft coup, I call it. No violence.”
Asked about his “soft coup” comment, Sekulow reiterated his concerns about the investigation’s origins and quoted Latin.
“There’s a doctrine of law that says res ipsa loquitur,” he said. “The thing speaks for itself.”
Sekulow follows a standard format for conservative talk shows.
“He expresses outrage and uses lots of vivid examples about how his side is persecuted, and tells his audience over and over again that they should be mad as hell, and they shouldn’t take it any more,” said Jeffrey M. Berry, a Tufts University political science professor who has studied talk radio.
“In today’s media, access is very important,” said Michael Harrison, the editor and publisher of Talkers magazine, a trade industry publication for talk radio. “It gives credibility to the core audience.”
Sekulow adds personal touches, of course. Musical interludes come from his classic rock group, the Jay Sekulow Band. (He plays the guitar and drums.)
Perhaps because he has been a radio personality for years, he is the most media-friendly member of Trump’s legal lawyers.
Attorney John Dowd once gave the middle finger to a reporter asking about a client’s case and gruffly declines most interview requests. Ty Cobb, who represents the White House, provides occasional statements to reporters.
Still, there are limits. Given the intense secrecy around the special counsel case, Sekulow said he sometimes holds back on the air.
“There have been times when there’s something in the news and we don’t comment on it,” he said. “We always put the interests of the client first.”
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