Trump Praises Witness Who Refuses to Testify Against Him
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Trump praised a key witness in the Russia investigation, Monday December 3rd. The witness was praised for having the “guts” not to testify against him. Trump believes that his former lawyer should go to prison for cutting a deal with prosecutors.
Five people in the president’s orbit have plead guilty to federal charges. Trump has made it clear through tweets that he is closely watching the ones who have turned on him in the special counsel’s probe.
Questions are building up about whether the tweets are Trump taking steps to improperly influence witnesses in an investigation that has shadowed his administration. A few legal experts say that the tweets may not amount to witness tampering if the president did not directly tell others what to say.
Trump already has come under scrutiny from critics who fear he may use his executive power to protect himself as well as friends and supporters. Last week, Trump told the New York Post that a pardon for his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was not off the table.
Prosecutors say Manafort torpedoed his plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller by repeatedly lying to them, although Manafort denies that he lied.
In one of Monday’s tweets, Trump took aim at Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney who once grandly declared he would “take a bullet” for the president but ultimately took a plea deal.
Cohen pleaded guilty last week to lying to Congress about negotiations he had on Trump’s behalf for a real estate deal in Moscow.
Though he told lawmakers the talks were done by January 2016, he admitted they actually lasted as late as June — after Trump had clinched the Republican nomination and after Russians had penetrated Democratic email accounts for communications later released through WikiLeaks.
Cohen said he lied out of loyalty to Trump, who insisted throughout the campaign that he had no business dealings in Russia, and to be consistent with his political messaging.
On Monday, Trump ripped into Cohen on Twitter.
“You mean he can do all of the TERRIBLE, unrelated to Trump, things having to do with fraud, big loans, Taxis, etc., and not serve a long prison term?” Trump added that Cohen “makes up stories to get a GREAT & ALREADY reduced deal for himself.”
Trump added: “He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence.”
Minutes later, Trump lavished praise on his former campaign adviser Roger Stone. Mueller’s prosecutors are investigating Stone to learn whether he had advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans to release hacked material damaging to Hillary Clinton’s presidential effort.
Trump lauded Stone for saying he’d never testify against the president.
“This statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about ‘President Trump,‘” he tweeted. “Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!’”
Stone then posted a screenshot of Trump’s tweet with a caption that said he was proud of their 40-year relationship and “prouder still of the amazing job he is doing making America Great Again!”
Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said Trump’s tweet was inappropriate.
“The President of the United States should not be using his platform to influence potential witnesses in a federal investigation involving his campaign,” Warner said in a tweet.
Stone said the idea that Trump’s tweet amount to witness tampering is “hysterical.”
“I’m not a witness to any proceeding,” he said.
David Weinstein, a former Justice Department prosecutor in Florida, said he was surprised by Trump’s comments Monday, but didn’t believe the tweets alone rose to the level of obstruction or witness tampering because Trump did not explicitly tell anyone what to say or not to say. Subjects of an investigation can still communicate to others entangled in a probe, and though they can encourage them to tell the truth, they cannot coach them to lie, he said.
“What he seems to be saying is that people who continue to show support for him, in some way, may be rewarded for that support,” Weinstein said. “I don’t think it rises to the level of obstruction yet, but it certainly would cause people who are conducting the investigation to start asking questions about whether or not the target has reached out to them.”
Trump’s message had an immediate effect on supporters. His remarks prompted Michael Caputo, the president’s former campaign aide and a longtime Stone friend, to launch a “GoFundMe” account to help pay Stone’s mounting legal fees.
Stone said he’s paid about half a million in legal fees already and is projecting that total to reach $2 million.
“I require a small platoon of excellent lawyers and they’re not inexpensive,” he said.
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