WH Lawyer Up For Appeals Court Distances Himself From Russia Probe

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Gregory Katsas, a top White House lawyer who has been nominated by President Trump for a powerful appeals court seat, told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday that he had “given legal advice on a few discrete legal questions” arising out of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, but denied any involvement in some of the key moments leading to the probe, including the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

“I have no knowledge of any underlying facts regarding Russian interference,” Katsas said at the hearing for his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

For the last 10 months, Katsas has served as a deputy counsel to President Trump, working directly under White House Counsel Don McGahn. Judiciary Democrats on Tuesday sought to grill Katsas on whether he had been involved in any of the major inflection points that the Mueller probe, as well as the congressional Russia investigations, have zeroed in on.

“The possibility exists that current or former White House officials may be fact witnesses or otherwise implicated in those investigations,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the top Democrat on the committee said.

Yet, when asked about specific White House episodes that are said to be of interest of the various probes, Katsas denied involvement in those decisions. Katsas said he did not take part in dealing with the issues pertaining to Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who is a major target of the Mueller probe, nor did he work on the fallout over the June 2016 Trump tower meeting, where Trump family members met with Kremlin-tied figures. He said also was not involved with the personnel decisions related to former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.

“I did not work on the dismissal of James Comey. In fact, I first learned of that dismissal when I saw it announced on television,” Katsas said.

Katsas also said he had not been interviewed by the Mueller probe, nor had he been sought for an interview.

Katsas would not go so far as to say that there had been an assertion of executive privilege – the right of the President to have internal considerations remain private — in his refusal to elaborate on the Russia-related matters he has advised on.

“It involves legal advice that I am providing as attorney to a client,” Katsas said, later adding, “I have not until today been asked to reveal the substance — the substance — of advice that I may have provided.”

He also said going into detail about what advice he’d given on the Russia probe could undermine the investigation itself.

“I don’t think I could properly talk about issues that could signal what he is looking at, the scope, the focus, the progress of his investigations. And I want I want to be very careful not to say anything that inadvertently undermines his work,” Katsas said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.

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