Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is now 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 The New York Times.
Trump has long wielded Twitter as a weapon. Now the special counsel is investigating his tweets as part of a broad obstruction inquiry. https://t.co/TAOLfV5JL6
— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 26, 2018
Several of the negative comments about the two men were made at the same time that Trump was also privately pressuring the men about the Russia investigation.
Since both Sessions and Comey are key witnesses in the special counsel’s probe, Mueller is now looking into whether or not Trump’s actions, including his tweets, add up to attempts to illegally obstruct the investigation.
If Mueller and his team can prove that Trump was attempting to intimidate witnesses and/or pressure senior law enforcement officials to either stop or downplay the Russia probe they would be able to convict the president of at least one federal crime, and possibly more.
Mueller’s interest in Trump’s tweets is new and is just the most recent type of presidential actions he is investigating as part of a likely case of criminal obstruction of justice.
Mueller has previously been investigating these Trump actions:
- private interactions with Mr. Comey, Mr. Sessions and other senior administration officials about the Russia inquiry;
- misleading White House statements;
- public attacks; and
- possible pardon offers to potential witnesses.
President Trump’s lawyers have said in public that nothing the president has done has been obstruction of justice. Their argument is that most of the presidential acts being scrutinized, including Comey’s firing, fall under Mr. Trump’s authority as the head of the executive branch. They have also said that president does not need to to answer Mueller’s questions about obstruction.
Privately, however, Trump’s lawyers are concerned that the special counsel will be able to tie together everything Trump has said and done, including the tweets, to build their criminal case against the president. They will try to prove that Trump put in place a comprehensive and ongoing plan to substantially interfere with the special counsel investigation by improperly influencing witnesses.
According to legal experts cited by the Times, prosecutors in obstruction of justice cases are successful when they use a larger, comprehensive pattern of the suspect’s behavior instead of just one thing that he did.
And these experts also say that Mueller’s investigators have told Trump’s lawyers that they are investigating the president’s tweets under a relatively new and very wide-ranging obstruction-of-justice law that was enhanced after the Enron accounting scandal. This new law would make it easier to convict the president of a crime.
Based on the types of questions they want to ask the president, and the fact that they are scrutinizing his actions under a section of the United States Code titled “Tampering With a Witness, Victim, or an Informant,” it appears that Mueller wants to make a case against the president for witness tampering. And the legal experts say that it is possible that Trump would face criminal exposure in this type of investigation.
Trump’s lead lawyer in the case, Rudy Giuliani, dismissed reports of Mueller’s interest in Trump’s tweets as a desperate effort by him to harm the president.
“If you’re going to obstruct justice, you do it quietly and secretly, not in public,” Giuliani said. However, the Times said the obstruction cases can be built on both private and public actions.
Donald Trump clearly loves Twitter even though his lawyers have advised him to stop posting on it. If Mueller uses Trump’s tweets to make a case of criminal obstruction of justice against him, there is no doubt that he will have wished he listened to his lawyer’s advice.