- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Among the collection of what President Trump calls “fake news” about the Russia probe, his lawyers point to one in particular: a prime-time White House interview with NBC News anchor Lester Holt on May 11, 2017.

The mainstream media narrative is that Mr. Trump at that time said he fired FBI director James B. Comey two days earlier because of the Justice Department probe into possible election-year collusion between the candidate’s associates and Russia.

But two lawyers — former Trump attorney John Dowd and current counselor Jay A. Sekulow — have broken down the interview line-by-line to show special counsel Robert Mueller that the president, in their words, “did not ever say such a thing.”

Their critique is contained in a 20-page January 2018 letter to Mr. Mueller making the case for why the president should not testify. On the Comey issue, the purpose was to show Mr. Trump did not obstruct justice.

“Because it has been so widely misreported and mischaracterized, we believe it is important to present the exchange in its entirety,” said the letter obtained by The New York Times.

Here’s how the lawyers dissect the interview:

Mr. Trump first said: “I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”

This is the incomplete answer that led the press to assert that Mr. Trump admitted Russia was the reason.

But the president, who his supporters concede expresses incomplete thoughts at times, had not finished his answer. He and Mr. Holt cross-talked for about a minute.

Then Mr. Trump finished his thought: “As far as I’m concerned, I want that thing [the Russia investigation] to be absolutely done properly. When I did this now, I said I probably maybe will confuse people. Maybe I’ll expand that, you know, I’ll lengthen the time because it should be over with. It should, in my opinion, should’ve been over with a long time ago because it — all it is an excuse. But I said to myself I might even lengthen out the investigation. But I have to do the right thing for the American people. He’s the wrong man for that position.”

In the lawyers’ view, Mr. Trump, rather than saying he fired Mr. Comey because the FBI was conducting the Russia in investigation, actually said he planned to do it regardless of Russia and wanted the investigation “done properly.” The firing may actually “lengthen” the probe.

(The the firing undoubted did. Shortly afterward, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mr. Mueller, who is still at it today and shows no sign of wrapping up.)

Mr. Holt at one point asked Mr. Trump if he expects the probe to go on. “Oh yeah, sure. I expect that,” the president said.

A Washington Times transcript examination also shows the president answered a question about stopping the investigation.

“No, I’m not doing that. I think that we have to get back to work. But I want to find out — I want to get to the bottom,” he said. “If Russia hacked — if Russia did anything having to do with our election, I want to know about it.”

He added: “I’ll tell you this. If Russia or anybody else is trying to interfere with our elections, I think it’s a horrible thing and I want to get to the bottom of it. And I want to make sure it will never, ever happen.”

As for why he fired Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump said, “Look, he’s a showboat. He’s a grandstander. The FBI has been in turmoil. You know that, I know that, everybody knows that.”

In summation, the Dowd-Sekulow letter said, Mr. Trump’s NBC interview showed that Mr. Comey was fired for incompetence, that Mr. Trump knew he had probably lengthened the process and planned to let it play out, and that he was innocent of wrongdoing.

Mr. Dowd believes he so effectively rebutted the Holt interview myth that, he told The Washington Times, “The mainstream media can’t stand that letter.”

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