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Mueller scrutinizes Trump tweets for obstruction, witness tampering

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Robert Mueller
Robert Mueller.
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Wong/Getty Images


  • The special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly
    looking into whether President Donald Trump’s tweets could open
    him up not only to obstruction of justice, but a potential
    witness tampering charge.
  • Mueller is reportedly focusing specifically on Trump’s
    tweets about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former FBI
    Director James Comey.
  • Trump’s lawyers are said to be worried that Mueller’s
    team is centering its obstruction case around a consistent
    pattern of behavior on Trump’s part that could point to
    attempts to obstruct justice or influence witness
    testimony.

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President Donald Trump’s critical tweets about Attorney General
Jeff Sessions and former FBI Director James Comey could open him
up to a possible witness tampering charge under a broad
obstruction of justice law.

The New York Times reported
Thursday that the special counsel Robert Mueller is interested in
questioning Trump about his tweets and private interactions with
Sessions and Comey to determine not only whether Trump sought to
obstruct justice, but whether he tried to use his power to
influence potential witnesses, three people briefed on the matter
told the outlet.

Mueller’s obstruction case stems from the president’s decision to
fire Comey last May. The White House initially said Comey was
fired because of the way he handled the FBI’s investigation into
Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. But Trump later
said on national television that “this Russia thing” was a factor
in his decision.

Comey testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee in June that
Trump asked him for his loyalty during a private meeting in
January, shortly after he took office. The former FBI director
also said the president asked him to let go of the FBI’s
investigation into former national security adviser Michael
Flynn.

Sessions, meanwhile, became the target of Trump’s fury when he
decided to recuse himself from the Russia investigation last
March, after it surfaced that he failed to disclose his Russia
contacts to Congress during his confirmation hearing.

Trump’s frustration with the attorney general reached a boiling
point last summer because he reportedly felt like Sessions was
not doing enough to protect him from what he often characterizes
as the Russia “witch hunt.” He also accused Sessions of not
investigating then-FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe’s ties to
Hillary Clinton.

Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lead defense lawyer, argued that Trump was
within his rights to fire Comey and criticize Sessions.

“If you’re going to obstruct justice, you do it quietly and
secretly, not in public,” Giuliani told The Times.

But the report said that Trump’s legal team is growing
increasingly concerned Mueller’s obstruction case will hinge on
showing a consistent pattern of behavior on Trump’s part — using
his tweets, private interactions, and other statements — pointing
to obstruction of justice and potential witness tampering.

Trump has made several public and private statements that experts
say could land him in jeopardy in the Russia probe.

Those actions involve, among other things:

  • Reportedly pressing Sessions to reverse his recusal at least
    four times.
  • Suggesting Sessions’ recusal was a “betrayal.”
  • Asking why “my guys” at the “Trump Justice Department”
    weren’t doing more to shield him from Mueller’s scrutiny.
  • Pressuring Comey, when he was FBI director, to publicly
    exonerate him in the Russia investigation.
  • Putting together a draft letter — which was not ultimately
    sent — laying out his reasons for firing Comey.
  • Publicly and privately musing about firing deputy attorney
    general Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing Mueller.
  • Reportedly attempting to push top intelligence officials,
    including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and then
    CIA Director Mike Pompeo, to pressure Comey to back off from the
    Russia investigation.
  • Telling Russian government officials the day after Comey’s
    firing that his dismissal had taken “great pressure” off of
    Trump.
  • Suggesting Comey should be investigated for rigging the FBI’s
    investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email
    server.
  • Reportedly ordering the White House counsel, Don McGahn, to
    fire Mueller. Trump backed off this request when McGahn
    threatened to resign.

Trump’s lawyers appear to be aware of his vulnerability on the
obstruction front. Earlier this week, The Times reported that the
president’s legal team is offering to allow Mueller to ask Trump
about potential collusion — in exchange for curtailing his
questions about obstruction.

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