Lawyers for President Donald Trump released new statements defending their client on Thursday after The Wall Street Journal reported that special counsel Robert Mueller had begun issuing subpoenas through a grand jury as part of his investigation into Russian influence in last year’s presidential election.
Jay Sekulow, an attorney on Trump’s personal legal team, told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto on Thursday that he was not told a grand jury had been convened, but he downplayed the news, saying it was “not a surprise.”
Assembling a grand jury is a major step in any investigation, but it does not signal if an indictment will follow or who might be targeted.
However, Sekulow was quick to distance the president from Mueller’s investigation, although his defense was more muted than those in the past.
“With respect to the impaneling of the grand jury, we have no reason to believe that the president is under investigation here,” Sekulow said, also noting he hoped the action would “speed things up.”
Another Trump lawyer, John Dowd, gave The Associated Press a near identical statement: “With respect to the news of the federal grand jury, I have no reason to believe that the president is under investigation.”
While the president’s attorneys and press officers have for weeks moved to say Trump had no knowledge of any collusion between Russia and his presidential campaign, the twin statements mark a subtle shift in their defense.
In June, Sekulow was far more adamant in his insistence that Trump was not under investigation, saying on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “There is not an investigation of the president of the United States, period.”
“Let me be clear here,” Sekulow said on June 18, “the president is not and has not been under investigation for obstruction.”
That same day, the lawyer also appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” exclaiming that Trump was “not being investigated” after mistakenly making a statement to the contrary.
“Let me be crystal clear so you completely understand,” he told host Chris Wallace. “We have not received nor are we aware of any investigation into the president of the United States.”
The most recent comments from Trump’s camp appear more guarded and focus on the secretive nature of grand juries and Mueller’s investigation. Ty Cobb, special counsel to the president, said he wasn’t aware of the new grand jury, as such “matters are typically secret.”
“This is news to me, but it’s welcome news to the extent it suggests that it may accelerate the resolution of Mr. Mueller’s work,” Cobb told The Washington Post.
Sekulow’s past statements came under scrutiny earlier this week after he vigorously denied that Trump was involved in drafting a statement defending son Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 with a Russian lawyer in hopes of obtaining dirt on Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton.
“I do want to be clear ― the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement,” Sekulow told NBC’s Chuck Todd on July 16.
On Monday, The Washington Post reported Trump had personally dictated the response his eldest son would use to address the media, casting doubt on the validity of the lawyers’ comments. Trump has strongly denied he had any knowledge of last summer’s meeting, telling reporters last month he only learned about it shortly before it became public.