14:56, June 19 277 0 theguardian.com

2017-06-19 14:56:02
Who is Jay Sekulow, Donald Trump's contradictory new lawyer?

Donald Trump’s new attorney, Jay Sekulow, burst into the public consciousness this weekend with a series of fiery – if contradictory – interviews on Sunday morning news shows.

The chief counsel for the conservative American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) was thrust into the spotlight as a member of the president’s legal team regarding investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign and links between Trump aides and Moscow.

Unfortunately for Sekulow, his introduction to the nation involved insisting across several networks that Trump was not being investigated for firing FBI director James Comey – despite the president having tweeted on Friday that he was – and then admitting that, actually, he did not know if Trump was being investigated after all.

Despite his lack of name recognition among much of the public, Sekulow long been a well-known figure on the Christian right.

Out of court, the 61-year-old is the author of books including Why Israel Matters; Undemocratic: Rogue, Reckless and Renegade: How the Government is Stealing Democracy One Agency at a Time and Unholy Alliance: the Agenda Iran, Russia, and Jihadists Share for Conquering the World.

He also hosts Jay Sekulow Live!, a daily radio show broadcast on more than 800 stations, and has more than four million followers on Facebook, where his posts alternate between warnings about Christians’ free speech being impinged and videos of The Jay Sekulow Band pumping out religious-themed mid-tempo rock. On Twitter, Sekulow’s 124,000 followers include Senator Ted Cruz and Fox News anchor Sean Hannity. In May, Sekulow guest-hosted the latter’s radio show.

Like Trump, Sekulow is from New York City – Brooklyn to the president’s Queens. Like Trump, Sekulow is a veteran of Fox News, where he serves as a legal analyst.

On Sunday, however, Sekulow struggled on what should have been his easiest appearance, telling Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace that Trump was being investigated “by the Department of Justice” then flatly denying he had said so.

Things didn’t get any better. Sekulow tried to reset by telling Wallace Trump was not under any investigation, but Wallace called him out.

“You don’t know that he isn’t under investigation now, do you?” Wallace said.

“Well, no one’s notified us that he is,” Sekulow replied. “So I … I can’t read people’s minds, but I can tell you this: we have not been notified that there’s an investigation to the president of the United States.”

Sekulow is not operating in his area of expertise. According to the ACLJ, which was founded in 1990 by the evangelist Pat Robertson, he has argued 12 cases before the supreme court, mostly pertaining to perceived threats to religious freedom.

“Sekulow is not a criminal attorney,” Josh Marshall, editor of Talking Points Memo, wrote earlier this month. “He’s not a defense attorney. He’s not even an attorney with any specialty in litigating the particular legal privileges of a president.

“There is literally nothing in Sekulow’s professional background (other than perhaps simply having a law degree) which would suit him to the very specific legal task of defending a sitting president from legal jeopardy.”

Sekulow’s work has proved controversial. The ACLJ has been criticized by LGBTQ advocacy organization the Human Rights Campaign and the media-monitoring website Right Wing Watch regarding its work fighting same-sex marriage.

In a 2005, meanwhile, the Legal Times reported that Sekulow had “via interconnected nonprofit and for-profit entities, built an empire that generates millions of dollars a year and supports a lavish lifestyle”. In response, Sekulow said he had “never had a blip” of financial irregularity.

In 2011, the Tennessean reported that the ACLJ and Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism – which Sekulow formed in the 1980s – paid $33m to “members of Sekulow’s family and businesses they own or co-own” over the previous 13 years. Sekulow family members did not respond to the newspaper’s questions; an ACLJ spokesman said Sekulow was “one of the most successful lawyers in the country whose income is very small and owns a very small home”.

Such accusations do not appear to have diminished Sekulow’s standing among the Christian right.

On Monday morning, the ACLJ did not immediately respond to a request to interview Sekulow. But Sekulow, speaking on his own radio show, seemed to have changed tack about Trump.

“If the reports are true that the president is being investigated for the termination of James Comey,” he said, “you gotta put it in context. So the Department of Justice recommended the removal of James Comey. The president took action on that recommendation, now the president is being investigated by the Department of Justice. Supposedly: we don’t have confirmation on this.

“So the president is purportedly being investigated for doing what the Department of Justice, who’s doing the investigation, asked him to do.

“That can’t be constitutional, that can’t be correct.”