Did Trump violate the federal law which prevents “intimidation” of a witness to “influence” testimony in an “official proceeding”? If so, he faces up to 20 years imprisonment.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and CNN‘s John King and Dana Bash are questioning whether Trump’s Monday morning tweet about former acting Attorney General Sally Yates amounts to witness intimidation.
Trump fired off a pair of tweets Monday morning in anticipation of the testimony of Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper before a Senate panel later in the day.
Trump attempted to deflect blame for the ever-expanding scandal involving Michael Flynn by putting the blame on President Obama, tweeting: “General Flynn was given the highest security clearance by the Obama Administration – but the Fake News seldom likes talking about that.”
In the next tweet, Trump lashed out at Yates, tweeting: “Ask Sally Yates, under oath, if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to W.H. Counsel.”
Ask Sally Yates, under oath, if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to W.H. Counsel.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
Rep. Lieu posted a tweet a few hours later questioning Trump’s motive and intent, tweeting: “Did @POTUS violate 18 USC 1512, which prevents ‘intimidation’ of a witness to ‘influence’ testimony in ‘official proceeding’?”
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) May 8, 2017
18 U.S. Code § 1512 – Tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant states in part:
(b) Whoever knowingly uses intimidation, threatens, or corruptly persuades another person, or attempts to do so, or engages in misleading conduct toward another person, with intent to—
(1) influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding;
(2) cause or induce any person to—
(A) withhold testimony, or withhold a record, document, or other object, from an official proceeding […] shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.
John King, host of CNN’s “Inside Politics,” led a panel discussion regarding the tweet with Jackie Kucinich of “The Daily Beast,” CNN’s Manu Raju, Michael Bender of “The Wall Street Journal,” and CNN’s Dana Bash.
King began the discussion stating that Trump’s tweet directed at Yates ahead of her testimony was akin to intimidating a witness.
In a court of law, you might call this trying to intimidate the witness. “Ask Sally Yates under oath if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to the White House Counsel.” For the record, that’s the president of the United States tweeting that. And, for the record, he misspelled “counsel” in his first tweet and then later fixed it.
A little further in the conversation, Michael Bender remarked that “Trump views himself as his own best communications director, his own best chief of staff, his own best research — opposition research pro, as he showed this morning. And, you know, when he gets on Twitter, he’s also his own worst enemy.”
The clip below picks up at this point with King responding:
And, look, this is important to the president of the United States, to Michael’s very important point, he views himself as his best communications adviser. He communicates differently. But he is the president of the United States. He’s the president of the United States and the former acting attorney general, who’s about to testify under oath before the United States Congress, and you tweet, “ask Sally Yates under oath if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to the White House Counsel.” I started before I got to covering politics all the time — I used to cover the courts a lot. A lawyer would call that witness intimidation.
Dana Bash agreed responding “completely,” as did Jackie Kucinich who simply stated “yes.”
Continuing, Bash stated that:
From the president of the United States. Look, I think that we have all been kind of desensitized in some way to his tweets and to his statements that are so out of the norm. This is beyond out of the norm. This is inappropriate. For the president of the United States to be this aggressive with somebody who used to work for him, who is coming before the United States Congress in sworn testimony hours later is beyond the pale. It just is.