Back on December 2, Donald Trump tweeted out what many observers in the legal community suggested was an admission of obstruction of justice.
Specifically, Trump appeared to suggest that he knew Michael Flynn had lied to the FBI when he pressured James Comey to drop an investigation.
Recall that on February 14, 2017, Trump said the following to then-Director Comey:
The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” I replied only that “he is a good guy.” (In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI.) I did not say I would “let this go.”
Again: if he knew Flynn had lied to the FBI when he asked Comey to “let it go,” well then that’s obstruction. Almost unequivocally.
“I think if the President knew Flynn had done anything illegal at the time he asked Comey to drop investigation, then yes, it strengthens the [obstruction] case”, former FBI counterintelligence agent Asha Rangappa said at the time, adding that in her mind, “it also has to be looked at in the context of both him and others on the campaign simultaneously and blanketly denying any contacts with Russia, when the statement of facts Flynn pled to clearly shows the opposite.”
Trump attorney John Dowd (who has since left the President’s legal team), attempted to clean up the mess a day later, telling ABC that he in fact wrote the tweet, a contention that raised more questions than it answered not the least of which was this: why would a lawyer put his client in legal jeopardy?
Apparently realizing that Trump had opened new doors for Mueller, Dowd tried something else – he told Axios that it is impossible for Trump to obstruct justice.
“The President cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case”, Dowd said, before accusing anyone who characterized Trump’s tweet as an admission of obstruction of being “ignorant and arrogant”.
The lesson from that episode was clear: Donald Trump puts himself in legal jeopardy with his incessant Twitter rants, which more often than not, are ill-conceived and full of half-truths. Simply put, the President would be well advised to avoid tweeting about anything to do with collusion and especially obstruction, with the latter being a less nebulous legal concept and thus easier to prosecute.
Of course the Flynn tweet shown above is hardly the first time Trump has tweeted out what, on the surface anyway, seems like evidence of an attempt to undermine or otherwise influence the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Well, as it turns out, Robert Mueller has being keeping track.
According to a New York Times piece published Thursday, the special counsel may be angling to cite Trump’s tweets as evidence of witness intimidation:
The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is scrutinizing tweets and negative statements from the president about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey, according to three people briefed on the matter.
Several of the remarks came as Mr. Trump was also privately pressuring the men — both key witnesses in the inquiry — about the investigation, and Mr. Mueller is examining whether the actions add up to attempts to obstruct the investigation by both intimidating witnesses and pressuring senior law enforcement officials to tamp down the inquiry.
Some of the tweets in question include these notable outbursts:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
Why didn't A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
…big dollars ($700,000) for his wife's political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the Swamp!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
Trump would of course go on to pressure Jeff Sessions into firing McCabe and the President has said, on too many occasions to count, that the “witch hunt” is only a thing because Sessions recused himself. In May, Trump quite explicitly said he wished he had never chosen Sessions to lead the Justice Department.
….There are lots of really good lawyers in the country, he could have picked somebody else!” And I wish I did!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2018
As if that’s not enough, multiple reports out over the past six months suggest Trump has in fact tried to fire Mueller himself on at least two occasions.
And it gets better. The Times goes on to say that while Trump’s legal team is putting on a brave face for the public by asserting that the President had (and still has) the authority to do pretty much whatever he wants, privately, it’s a different story.
“Some of the lawyers have expressed concern that Mr. Mueller will stitch together several episodes, encounters and pieces of evidence, like the tweets, to build a case that the president embarked on a broad effort to interfere with the investigation”, the Times writes, adding that Mueller may attempt to lean on precedent established after the Enron scandal to build a case.
Specifically, Mueller is said to be “scrutinizing [Trump’s] actions under a section of the United States Code titled ‘Tampering With a Witness, Victim, or an Informant.'”
But don’t worry, because no one has ever accused Trump of doing anything like that before, and even if someone had suggested the President is inclined to intimidate witnesses, it’s not like the person through whom that intimidation was channeled has been flipped by prosecutors.
Oh, and when it comes to tweets, this is definitely how someone who is innocent acts…