Donald Trump bizarrely praises witness for having the "guts" not to testify against him
Donald Trump has come under criticism this week for not remaining impartial in the Russia investigation, as he both attacked his former personal attorney and praised a key witness for having the "guts" to not testify against him.
Trump, unlike other presidents, is quick to speak his mind on Twitter, but some think that his comments could potentially count as witness tampering. In a series of politically-charged tweets, he said that his former lawyer who cut a deal with prosecutors, Michael Cohen, should go to prison.
Cohen, who had previously said he would "take a bullet" for the president, eventually pleaded guilty last week to lying to congress last week, with regards to negotiations he had on Trump's behalf for a real estate deal in Moscow. The talks, which took place in January 2016, actually lasted as late as June - after Trump had got the Republican nomination and after Russians had hacked into Democrat email accounts.
Cohen said he had lied out of loyalty to Trump and to be consistent with his politics, after the now-president had insisted he had no business dealings in Russia. Trump claimed that Cohen "makes up stories to get a GREAT & ALREADY reduced deal for himself," and that he "lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence".
Soon after, Trump praised his former campaign adviser, Roger Stone. Prosecutors are currently investigating Stone to learn whether he had knowledge of WikiLeaks' plans to release hacked material related to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign prior to the leak.
"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!'"
Following this, Stone replied to say he was proud of their 40-year relationship and of the "amazing job he is doing making America Great Again!"
Many are wondering, however, whether these tweets show that Trump is attempting to influence witnesses in an active investigation. Senator Mark Warner, from the Senate intelligence committee, said that the president "should not be using his platform to influence potential witnesses in a federal investigation involving his campaign," but others have said that this still doesn't quite count as witness tampering.
Former Florida Justice Department prosecutor David Weinstein added that, while Trump's comments were surprising, he doesn't believe they amount to obstruction or witness tampering - because Trump didn't explicitly tell anyone what to say or not say.
"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."
Following Trump's remarks, former campaign aide and close friend to Stone Michael Caputo launched a GoFundMe to help pay for Stone's legal fees - which are allegedly projected to reach $2 million.
In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts, which include campaign-finance violations. According to Cohen, Trump told him to arrange the payment of hush money for porn star Stormy Daniels, as well as a former Playboy model, in the run-up to the presidential campaign - the first time a Trump associate had implicated Trump in a crime in court.