Trump decries 'witch hunt' but lawyer insists no probe


Washington (AFP)

One of Donald Trump's lawyers insisted Sunday that the president was not under criminal investigation as part of the sweeping probe into Russia's alleged meddling in American elections, despite the US leader's tweets angrily calling the whole saga a "distraction."

The contradictory messages came after Trump first answered -- and seemingly confirmed -- reports that he is personally under scrutiny for potential obstruction of justice, tweeting on Friday: "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt."

But Jay Sekulow, part of Trump's legal team, said the president was writing about reports of an investigation, not an actual probe.

"The tweet from the president was in response to the five anonymous sources purportedly leaking info to The Washington Post," Sekulow told NBC television's "Meet the Press."

"He's not afraid of the investigation -- there is no investigation... there is not an investigation of the president of the United States, period."

The lawyer also suggested Twitter's character limit may be partly to blame.

"The president's response was as it related to the Washington Post report. He cannot in a Twitter statement include all of that in there... That's it. Simple explanation," Sekulow told CNN's "State of the Union."

Sekulow was referring to a report in the Post this week that said Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in November's presidential election was now also trying to determine whether Trump obstructed justice.

Trump's fledgling presidency has been battered by allegations -- being dissected both by Congress and the FBI -- that Russia interfered to sway the 2016 election in his favor, in possible collusion with the former real estate magnate's campaign team.

On Sunday, Trump again referred to the probe, but dismissed it.

"The MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN agenda is doing very well despite the distraction of the Witch Hunt. Many new jobs, high business enthusiasm, massive regulation cuts, 36 new legislative bills signed, great new S.C. Justice, and Infrastructure, Healthcare and Tax Cuts in works!" he wrote.

Sekulow said his legal team had not received notice of any probe into Trump.

"There has been no notification from the special counsel's office that the president is under investigation. In fact, to the contrary," he told CBS' "Face the Nation," pointing to recent testimony by sacked FBI director James Comey who said the president had not been the target of an investigation. Trump fired Comey in early May.

- Tapes next week? -

Trump has hinted that he may have taped conversations with Comey -- in which the ex-FBI chief says the president pressured him for his loyalty and on the Russia investigation while also urging him to drop a probe into former national security advisor Michael Flynn.

Sekulow said Trump would address the issue of the tapes -- whose very existence is unclear -- in the "week ahead."

Senator Marco Rubio, who lost the Republican primary election to Trump, called for a "full and credible investigation."

He sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own probe into Russian election meddling.

Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, estimated that investigators are just 20 percent into their probe, which could last for months.

"I can say categorically that the collusion or cooperation aspect of the investigation is not over," the Maine senator told "Meet the Press," adding that the probe could be done by the end of 2017.

"This is a very complex matter, involving thousands of pages of intelligence documents, lots of witnesses."

Trump returned to the White House on Sunday after spending Father's Day weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat.

He told reporters upon his return that the western Maryland mountain retreat is "incredible" and "beautiful," later tweeting that it is "a very special place."

"An honor to have spent the weekend there. Military runs it so well and are so proud of what they do!" he posted.

First Lady Melania Trump also sent a tweet on Sunday: "#HappyFathersDay @POTUS," she said, referring to her husband by his official Twitter handle and adding a heart emoticon.