Trump lawyer and Hannity regular Jay Sekulow regularly pushes false claims and conspiracies

Trump lawyer and Hannity regular Jay Sekulow regularly pushes false claims and conspiracies

››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

Jay Sekulow, a member of President Donald Trump’s legal team, is a regular Fox News guest, particularly on staunch Trump ally Sean Hannity’s TV and radio shows (which Sekulow has also sometimes guest-hosted). Fox and Hannity have repeatedly given Sekulow a platform to push misinformation; in fact, Sekulow made at least seven misleading or dubious allegations on Hannity’s shows between late May and June, some of which Hannity encouraged.


Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Trump hired lawyer and regular Fox guest Jay Sekulow for his legal team

Trump hired Sekulow for his legal team. President Donald Trump hired Jay Sekulow, “the chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice since 1990,” as part of his “outside legal team to deal with the Russia probes,” according to The Associated Press. From the June 11 article:

An attorney and broadcaster with longtime ties to a Christian legal organization has joined President Donald Trump's outside legal team to deal with the Russia probes.

Jay Sekulow has been the chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice since 1990, focusing on free speech and religious liberty cases. The ACLJ was founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson.

Sekulow hosts a daily radio show and a weekly TV program. He has publicly defended Trump amid the Russia firestorm, including following fired FBI Director James Comey's testimony on Capitol Hill. [The Associated Press, 6/11/17]

Sekulow has repeatedly been a guest on Hannity’s shows, and he has guest-hosted the radio show as well

Sekulow has been a guest host for Hannity’s radio show. Sekulow has been a recurring guest host for Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show. [Twitter, 2/23/17, 5/25/17]

Hannity’s shows constituted nearly half of Sekulow’s media appearances between May 28 and June 19. According to a Media Matters search between May 28 and June 19, Sekulow was on Fox News’ Hannity and Premiere Radio Networks’ The Sean Hannity Show at least seven times each, constituting nearly half of his 30 media appearances during that timespan. Eighty percent of his media appearances during that time were on Fox News, Fox Business, and Hannity’s radio show.

Sekulow has repeatedly made false and misleading statements, and has pushed conspiracy theories

Sekulow has pushed false “shadow government” and “deep state” conspiracy theories. During the March 3 edition of Hannity, Sekulow said that “you’ve got a shadow government that is leaking this information" about Trump, and it includes "people that were in step with the previous administration." On the May 3 edition of his radio show, Jay Sekulow Live!, Sekulow speculated about whether Hillary Clinton was "leading the shadow government while [former] President [Barack] Obama's giving $400,000 speeches," or if Obama was leading it. The conspiracy theory that Obama is leading a “shadow government” came from right-wing media and has been debunked. Sekulow has also asserted there is a “deep state” in the government, a conspiracy theory that is also prominent in right-wing media. [Media Matters3/3/17; Fox News, Your World6/6/17; American Center for Law and Justice, Jay Sekulow Live!5/3/17The New York Times3/6/17; Facebook, 6/21/17]

Sekulow pushed Seth Rich conspiracy theories with Sean Hannity. In May, Sekulow gave credibility to the conspiracy theories Hannity was pushing surrounding the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich by saying, “It sure doesn't look like a robbery.” From the May 18 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): Questions continue to swirl around the mysterious murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich. Now, following Rich's death, there was suspicion that he may have been the source of the DNC emails that were leaked to WikiLeaks, now -- not the Russians, as the left claims.

[...]

Now, if Rich, in fact, was WikiLeaks' source for the DNC email leaks, it would confirm Russia was not involved.

[...]

It gets more mysterious by the minute. Now, if it was true, we don't know yet, if it was true that Seth Rich gave WikiLeaks the DNC emails, wouldn't that blow the whole Russia collusion narrative that the media has been pushing out of the water?

[...]

Based on what Julian Assange said in that Dutch interview, it sounds like he -- not 100%, but pretty close, to being -- to saying that "Wow, it could be Seth Rich."

[...]

JAY SEKULOW: It sure doesn't look like a robbery, it looks like a murder, and I haven't seen the files, you haven't seen the files, but there's one thing this undercuts, I think, is this -- I think this whole Russian argument is such a subterfuge for reality. [Fox News, Hannity, 5/18/17]

Sekulow falsely claimed Trump was “totally vindicated” by Comey’s testimony and misleadingly stated that Clapper has said there’s no evidence of collusion. Sekulow falsely claimed that former FBI Director James Comey’s opening statement during his testimony to Congress was a “total and complete vindication” of Trump. Comey’s testimony in fact repeated his allegations that Trump had asked Comey for loyalty and had told him that he “hope[d Comey] could let … go” the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn -- allegations that had earlier appeared in newspaper reports and that Trump had denied. Sekulow also misleadingly claimed that former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper said there was “no evidence” of collusion between Russian and Trump aides. Clapper actually said that he wasn’t aware of evidence, and he later clarified that as DNI head he would not necessarily have access to the FBI investigation. From the June 7 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:

JAY SEKULOW: Well, let me tell you what you’ve got here: a total and complete vindication of the president of the United States on any of these allegations of obstruction of anything and the fact that also, the president was clearly not under investigation, not a target. So all of the left’s talking points are completely incorrect by James Comey’s own testimony, in his written testimony. This now is bad for the country to continue spending resources -- distracting everyone, including the Congress, from really getting to the people’s business. This is a waste of money. But I’m going to tell you what this is. This document right here? Case closed. There is no case. And by the way, couple that, Sean, with all of the statements from [former acting Attorney General] Sally Yates, from all of the other -- besides all the intelligence individuals -- the heads of intelligence agencies, James Clapper, all of them saying no evidence. [Fox News, Hannity, 6/7/17; NPR, 6/7/17; PolitiFact, 5/12/17]

Sekulow misleadingly claimed Obama said the IRS did nothing corrupt during the supposed IRS scandal. Sekulow claimed that then-President Barack Obama “said there was not even a smidgen of corruption” when the investigation into the IRS’ “targeting of conservative organizations” “was open and pending.” Sekulow left out a few things in his misleading statements: When IRS employees’ activity was discovered, their superiors stopped it; the report that had uncovered the practice also mentioned that, according to Newsweek, “there was no reason to think that there was any political influence involved in what had happened”; and progressive groups had also been scrutinized. But the supposed scandal was still heavily hyped by right-wing media. From the June 7 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:

JAY SEKULOW: What you’ve got is case should be closed, complete vindication, total vindication. Let me add one other thing here, Sean. President Obama -- people are going to forget this, but I want to remember because I handled this case in court. In the middle of a criminal investigation into the IRS targeting of conservative organizations -- in the middle of that investigation, the president of the United States said there was not even a smidgen of corruption while the investigation was open and pending. Did James Comey write a memo about that? No. Suffers from selective disclosure disorder. I've been saying that for weeks -- that’s what it is. [Fox News, Hannity, 6/7/17; Newsweek, 8/28/16; Media Matters, 6/26/13, 6/27/13]

Sekulow invoked the debunked right-wing media claim that Comey violated the law by not reporting that Trump pressured him to drop the Flynn probe. Sekulow suggested that Comey violated the law by not reporting “obstruction of justice” when Trump asked him to drop the probe into Flynn. The claim, which originated with Fox anchor Gregg Jarrett, has been debunked by at least one legal expert as “nonsense.” From the June 7 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:

JAY SEKULOW: And in his memo, his new legal standard is, “I was uncomfortable when I was with the president.” Really? That’s now the legal standard? But I'll tell you why he's not -- why he did not follow through with reporting obstruction of justice. Because there was no obstruction of justice! And he would have to be under oath saying that he thought there was a case for obstruction of justice and bring a charge under 18 USC 4 against James Comey? So what did he do? His lawyer said, “You know what? You better not testify on a false statement of your own,” because now James Comey, by the way, is the former FBI director. He is a witness. He’s under oath. He’s obligated to tell the truth. He didn’t walk across the street because there was no case. And he said that in his memo. [Fox News, Hannity, 6/7/17; Media Matters, 5/18/17]

Sekulow invoked the false right-wing media claim that Comey violated the law by “leaking” his memos. Sekulow falsely claimed that Comey violated the law because he “disclose[d] and convey[ed] a government document to an unauthorized person.” This claim, which originated from right-wing media, has been debunked by experts, who said Comey did not violate the federal conversion of property statute and that his memos were not “privileged communications.” From the June 9 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:

SHANNON BREAM (CO-HOST): Is James Comey is any real legit legal trouble over this leak?

JAY SEKULOW: I think he is. 18 USC 641 says that if you disclose and convey a government document to an unauthorized person, that that's a violation of the law. And here, let's be very clear what happened. James Comey admitted that he was, in fact, the leaker. He leaked the information to a friend of his from Columbia Law School with the instruction to leak it to, at that point, to leak it to The New York Times, and he said he did it for the sole purpose of obtaining a special counsel, which is the result, by the way, he got. So if you look at section 641 and others, 614 and others, I think he’s got some serious issues. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 6/9/17; Media Matters, 6/8/17]

Sekulow attacked “pathetic” Comey for not being “strong enough” against Trump, echoing right-wing media. During the June 8 and June 9 editions of Fox News’ Hannity, Sekulow attacked Comey after his Senate testimony for saying he “couldn’t be strong enough” to deal with Trump’s actions, saying it was “pathetic” and asking, “Is that the guy you want running your FBI?” The attacks echoed right-wing media mockery of Comey. [Fox News, Hannity, 6/8/17, 6/9/17; Media Matters, 6/8/17]

Sekulow seemingly contradicted himself over whether Trump had asked Comey for “loyalty.” Sekulow appeared to contradict himself within a span of two days as to whether Trump actually asked Comey for “loyalty.” During the June 7 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Sean Hannity Show, Sekulow claimed that when Trump said, "'I want your loyalty,' it's loyalty to the United States, to the Constitution of the United States,” which was similar to right-wing media’s spin. Yet the next day on Fox News’ Hannity, Sekulow reversed his position, saying that "the president doesn’t even say he said it.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 6/7/17; Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 6/7/17; Fox News, Hannity, 6/8/17]

Sekulow dubiously claimed Trump “took the higher road” by firing Comey and said Trump knew it would extend the Russia probe. Sekulow dubiously claimed that Trump took the “higher road” by firing Comey, knowing it would “cost [him] personally” because “it’s going to extend” the Russia probe. The claim contradicts reports that Trump said Comey’s firing would ease the “great pressure” he faced with the Russia probe. From the June 8 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:

JAY SEKULOW: The president, when he fired the FBI director, for cause, in my view, and I think the view of the American people, he knew that that was going to extend this investigation that's actually going nowhere anyways. But he knew it was going to extend it. So he took the higher road and said, “This will cost me personally because it’s going to extend it, but I’m doing this because this guy, James Comey, should not be the director of the FBI.” [Fox, Hannity, 6/8/17; The New York Times, 5/19/17]

Sekulow invoked the false right-wing media claim that “gross negligence” and “extreme carelessness” were the same thing regarding the Clinton email probe. Sekulow falsely said that “extreme carelessness” -- which Comey said then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton employed in terms of her email server -- is the same thing as “gross negligence.” Experts disagreed with the claim, which came from right-wing media, noting that “gross negligence” constitutes a specific high bar that Clinton did not meet. From the June 13 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): This is so amazing to me. Jay Sekulow, let's go to the legal side of this. OK, that would certainly demand an investigation into possible obstruction of justice, possible the fix was in from Hillary Clinton from the beginning. If we go back to the email investigation alone, remember, the legal standard is “gross negligence.” [Comey] said she was “extremely careless.” We already know she mishandled classified information and top-secret information and special access program information in a mom and [pop] bathroom closet. And of course, she destroyed such information, that is all. Two of those issues are felonies, are they not?

JAY SEKULOW: They are, and of course, “extreme carelessness” is what “gross negligence” means. So that’s part of the legal definition. [Fox News, Hannity, 6/13/17; Media Matters, 7/5/16]

Sekulow falsely claimed that Trump fired Comey due to the Rosenstein memo, even though Trump told Lester Holt otherwise. Sekulow dubiously claimed that Trump’s decision to fire Comey was based upon a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, contradicting Trump’s statement to NBC’s Lester Holt that he was “was going to fire [Comey] regardless of recommendation.” From the June 14 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:

JAY SEKULOW: It was Rod Rosenstein’s document, his letter. … He’s the one who said that James Comey, the director, was wrong to usurp the attorney general’s authority under Attorney General Loretta Lynch. ... What I’m saying is this. [Rosenstein’s] basis upon which he wrote this memorandum, which I understand, was the basis upon which you take action. It wasn’t about Russia. And by the way, you know what this also shows, without question? This Russia investigation’s gone nowhere, so now they’re coming up with new issues. [Fox News, Hannity, 6/14/17; The Washington Post, 5/11/17]

Sekulow agreed with Hannity’s repetition of a debunked claim that the Clinton Foundation “got millions” from a uranium deal with Russia. Sekulow gave credibility to Hannity’s false claim that Hillary Clinton “signed off on 20 percent of uranium going to Putin and her foundation got millions,” saying the “FBI didn’t do anything about it.” The claim, which has been debunked, originated from the book Clinton Cash. From the June 15 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): She used BleachBit, OK? She used Bleach -- she destroyed BlackBerries that she said she never had. Wait a minute -- she signed off on 20 percent of uranium going to Putin and her foundation got millions.

JAY SEKULOW: And the FBI didn’t do anything about it. They cleared her, which, by the way --

HANNITY: Statute of limitations, my friend.[Fox News, Hannity, 6/15/17; Media Matters, 2/16/17]

Sekulow used the June 3 London attack to defend Trump’s Muslim ban. Sekulow claimed that the June 3 London Bridge attack “is part of the justification for” Trump’s Muslim ban, even though none of the suspects in the attack were from countries that would be covered by the proposed ban. From the June 5 edition of Fox Business’ Making Money with Charles Payne:

JAY SEKULOW: You have to have a bona fide purpose for the executive order. That’s what the courts looked at, and if you look at these attacks and most recently the horrific attacks again this weekend in London, of course, it makes it real. This is not some kind of hypothetical we’re dealing with. This is real terror happening around the world, we’ve had it here in the United States. Fortunately the last few months we haven’t, but in Great Britain they are having it, three in 10 weeks. Three incidents. So I think at bottom here, that that is part of the justification for it. Now, some will argue, well, those individuals were already British citizens. But it doesn't answer this question, and I think this is a valid question that immigration and naturalization should be able to ask anybody, including a citizen: What were you doing in Syria? Who were you meeting with? If you were in a hot zone, a trouble zone, I don't think that violates your privacy. [Fox Business, Making Money with Charles Payne, 6/5/17; BBC, 6/6/17]

Sekulow gave credibility to the misleading claim -- which originated from “alt-right” trolls -- that Comey said Trump did not interfere with any FBI probe. Sekulow gave credibility to the misleading claim that Comey said in his May 3 testimony that no one interfered with an FBI probe, saying Comey would have “to try to explain it away.” The claim came from “alt-right” trolls, and Comey was specifically referring to the Department of Justice. From the June 6 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:

SHANNON BREAM (CO-HOST): Well, OK, so [Comey] has already been before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And during that time there was an interchange that people have made a lot of note of. The fact that when he was pressed on whether someone had tried to interfere with him in this investigation, he said no. Now some say he was only referring to the Justice Department. Others say it sounded more broadly, like that was an opening for him to say if he felt he was being pressured by anyone at any point with regard to this investigation. Do you think he’ll be able to explain that away?

JAY SEKULOW: Well he’s going to have to try to explain it away. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 6/6/17; Media Matters, 5/18/17; PolitiFact, 6/6/17]

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