President Trump doesn’t like “flippers.” He’s likened them to “rats” and even wondered aloud about whether they’re the real criminals.
On Monday, he asked a judge to throw the book at one “flipper” particularly close to home: his former "fixer" and personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Moments later, he praised Roger Stone for having “guts,” after his former campaign aide vowed to never testify against the president.
Trump may have just been letting off steam on Twitter — as he is wont to do — but his latest tirade could provide special counsel Robert Mueller with yet more material that could one day be used against the president in an obstruction of justice or witness tampering charge, former prosecutors said. Though they cautioned it would be extremely difficult to make any such charge stick.
“If the only thing you were basing an obstruction case were these two tweets, you wouldn’t have a case. But the pattern here is off the charts,” said Nick Akerman, a former member of the Watergate scandal prosecution team. “When you’re a prosecutor, you’re looking at the pattern, and how it fits into all the other evidence.”
“If the only thing you were basing an obstruction case were these two tweets, you wouldn’t have a case. But the pattern here is off the charts.”
Legal experts have long debated whether Trump’s Twitter feed might one day come back to haunt him. Such concerns only intensified after The New York Times reported in July that Mueller’s team was in fact scrutinizing Trump’s tweets as part of its probe.
Monday’s display is likely to fan the flames.
George Conway, the attorney married to top Trump communications advisor Kellyanne Conway, responded to Trump’s comment on Stone by tweeting out statute on witness tampering:
Yet the very public nature of Trump’s comments makes it difficult to prove he hasn’t just been speaking his mind on public matters, said Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. Attorney from the Eastern District of Michigan.
Read: Mueller just drew a direct line between Trump's business and the Kremlin
“The key to obstruction of justice, as a criminal charge, is that you have to show corrupt intent,” McQuade said. “You’d have to show that he intended to interfere with the investigation.”
McQuade said prosecutors would have to fit Trump’s tweets “into a bigger pattern and show that his plan to obstruct justice included a public relations campaign to discredit the Mueller investigation,” McQuade said. “Then all of these tweets about the Mueller ‘witch hunt’ could potentially be part of that larger scheme.”
Cohen pleaded guilty last week to one count of lying to Congress about his own efforts to lock down a real estate deal in Russia on Trump’s behalf at a time during the campaign, at a time when Trump was saying warm words about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Cohen has also pleaded guilty to charges of tax fraud in his taxi business, and to campaign finance violations stemming from hush money payments to women who said they’d slept with Trump.
On Friday, Cohen’s lawyers asked a judge not to send him to jail, based largely on his many hours of assistance to probes of Trump’s campaign, business and charitable foundation now being run by Mueller and prosecutors in New York.
Read: A short history of Trump denying any connection to Russia
Besides potentially deepening his own legal exposure in his Twitter tirade Monday, Trump also unwittingly introduced a new character into the sprawling Russia saga through his decision to capitalize the words “Scott Free.” Twitter had a field day asking about him.
Cover image: Michael Cohen walks out of federal court, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, in New York. Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about work he did on an aborted project to build a Trump Tower in Russia. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)