As I noted last week, Trump may be in more trouble for trying to cover up his crimes than the crimes themselves. Now it looks like his tweets could open the door to getting him on obstruction of justice and witness tampering.
Trump took to Twitter Monday morning, haranguing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and witnesses to his ongoing Russia investigation. His tweets have become a common morning occurrence, particularly in recent weeks. But legal experts are calling Monday’s missives a newsworthy development that amounts to evidence of obstructing justice.
Trump’s first statement went out after Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney who pleaded guilty last week for lying to Congress about the president’s real estate project in Russia. In his tweet, Trump alleged that Cohen lied to Mueller and called for a severe penalty, demanding that his former fixer “serve a full and complete sentence.”
After the overt attack on Cohen came a tweet encouraging Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to Trump, not to become a witness against him:
“’I will never testify against Trump.’ This statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about ‘President Trump.’ Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!’”
Norman Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that the most striking thing about Monday was that there were two statements in proximity.
“It comes very close to the statutory definition of witness tampering,” he said. “It’s a mirror image of the first tweet, only he’s praising a witness for not cooperating with the implication of reward,” he said, adding that Trump has pardon power over Stone.
“We’re so used to President Trump transgressing norms in his public declarations,” Eisen said, “but he may have crossed the legal line.”
Attorney George Conway, husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, referenced the federal statute most likely to create legal liability for Trump: 18 U.S.C. §§ 1512, which outlines the crime of witness tampering.
What is the law?
Tampering with a witness is obstruction of justice.
It’s a federal crime for an individual to intimidate, threaten or “corruptly persuade” another person with the goal of influencing or preventing his or her testimony.
Did Trump break it?
Historically, there are plenty of cases where similar statements were used as part of an obstruction-of-justice prosecution, according to former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal.
Even if Mueller could technically satisfy the statute, few prosecutors would make a congressional referral based on tweets from the president alone.
Instead, Monday’s slew of tweets probably will be used to evaluate whether Trump’s intent was “corrupt.” They will also be used to show a pattern by Trump to interfere with law enforcement to serve his personal end, Katyal said.
I can’t decide if Trump is unaware of the liability he’s exposing himself to, doesn’t care (“Neener, neener, I’m the president and you can’t touch me!”), or he’s fully aware of it and is doing it on purpose in the mistaken belief that somehow his tweeting will damage the Mueller investigation and make it impossible for the prosecutors to empanel a jury. Or, maybe, as the article suggests, he’s just melting down.
In any case, it makes you wonder where the hell his lawyer is in all this.