Conservative attorney Jay Sekulow has emerged as the public face for President Trump’s legal team, appearing on four of the five major Sunday talk shows this weekend to aggressively bat down reports that his client is under investigation for obstruction of justice.
The Brooklyn-born lawyer delivered a swaggering performance that appeared to be well-received by Trump, who used his Twitter account to promote a Monday morning Sekulow appearance on “Fox & Friends.” (The tweet was later deleted.)
Sekulow continued the combative streak Monday with a debate on CNN with “New Day” host Chris Cuomo, which suggested that if Trump had been looking for an aggressive defender on television, he got his man.
“The president has shown that he tends to be, shall we say, plain-spoken and forthright,” said Bill Otis, special White House counsel to former President George H.W. Bush. “I imagine Mr. Sekulow bears this in mind.”
The 61-year-old lawyer is one of the latest additions to the group of attorneys defending the president in the investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election, joining longtime Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz and his partner, Michael Bowe, earlier this month.
Sekulow, through a spokesperson, declined to be interviewed.
While Sekulow might be a new face to much of America, he’s been traveling in Washington conservative circles for years.
He burst onto the capital’s legal scene in 1987, when he helped Jews for Jesus win a Supreme Court case against an ordinance banning them from handing out pamphlets at Los Angeles International Airport.
“The first time I ever really argued a constitutional issue was to the Supreme Court,” Sekulow told the Los Angeles Times in 1993.
The win helped turn Sekulow, a self-described “messianic Jew,” into a mover and shaker on the religious right.
Sekulow joined forces with televangelist Pat Robertson, who hired him in 1992 as chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). He made a name for himself there by taking on high-profile cases on behalf of Christian conservative causes.
He’s been no stranger to controversy, having argued 11 other cases before the high court on issues ranging from abortion rights and religious expression to campaign finance.
He was also an outspoken opponent of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque — a proposed Islamic center near the former site of the World Trade Center in New York City.
Before his involvement with Trump, Sekulow’s influence in Washington had peaked during the George W. Bush administration, when he served as an outside adviser on Supreme Court picks and other issues related to judicial nominations. He also advised Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign.
For all of his notoriety, Sekulow lacks the experience in white-collar defense and criminal investigations that legal experts say is essential for Trump’s legal team.
To address that gap, Kasowitz has enlisted John Dowd, a Washington attorney who has defended politicians and other public figures in major cases.
Sekulow has proven himself to be a loyal backer of the president — the ACLJ filed legal briefs earlier this year defending the Trump’s travel ban.
“This to me is a bulletproof order,” Sekulow said on his radio show in March, weeks after it was blocked by federal court orders.
Sekulow’s performance on Sunday earned mixed reviews.
He stumbled during a heated exchange on Fox News about the president’s claim that he is “being investigated for firing the FBI director.”
“Jay, the tape will speak for itself. You said he is being investigated,” “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace said when Sekulow appeared to confirm that Trump is under investigation.
“I do not appreciate you putting words in my mouth when I’ve been crystal clear that the president is not and has not been under investigation,” Sekulow responded. “I don’t think I can be any clearer than that.”
Wallace then told Sekulow, “You don’t know that he’s not under investigation again, sir,” and the lawyer appeared to agree.
“You’re right, Chris, I can’t read the mind of the special prosecutor,” he said.
Critics say Sekulow’s weekend interviews also showed off the difficulties of defending Trump.
“People who have agreed to be spokespersons for President Trump frequently find themselves contradicted and made to look silly,” said Bill Jeffress, a longtime Washington criminal lawyer who represented I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a top adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney, in a lawsuit related to the Valerie Plame affair.
“Clearly, he wants his lawyers to be spokespeople too. It’s a risky business, but they have agreed to do it.”
Jeffress warned that if members of Trump’s legal team “risk their own credibility” by defending him in public, it could have consequences if the case ever reaches court.
Sekulow’s place in the public eye has also renewed scrutiny on his past business dealings.
In 2005, the Legal Times wrote that he used the ACLJ and other nonprofit groups to build “a financial empire that generates millions of dollars a year and supports a lavish lifestyle — complete with multiple homes, chauffeur-driven cars, and a private jet that he once used to ferry Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.”
Sekulow told the publication there was nothing wrong with the arrangements, saying that “we’ve been doing this for 20 years and never had a blip” of financial irregularity.
The Tennessean reported in 2011 that the ACLJ and Sekulow’s other legal nonprofit, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, have paid out “$33 million to members of Sekulow’s family and businesses they own or co-own” over a span of 13 years.
Ronn Torossian, an ACLJ spokesman, told the paper that Sekulow was not living a lavish lifestyle.
“You are asking about one of the most successful lawyers in the country whose income is very small and owns a very small home,” he said.