Witness intimidation

The past few hours in Trump. The Times starts with the Twitter threat at Comey.

Mr. Trump chose not to clarify when asked later in the day by Fox News if there were tapes of conversations. “That I can’t talk about. I won’t talk about it,” he said. “All I want is for Comey to be honest.”

He lies every time he opens his mouth, and he’s telling other people to be honest.

Democrats were incredulous. “For a president who baselessly accused his predecessor of illegally wiretapping him, that Mr. Trump would suggest that he, himself, may have engaged in such conduct is staggering,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Representatives John Conyers Jr. of Michigan and Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrats on the judiciary and oversight committees, sent a letter to the White House demanding copies of any recordings if they exist. The letter noted that “it is a crime to intimidate or threaten any potential witness with the intent to influence, delay or prevent their official testimony.”

It’s a crime the sitting president just committed in public. What will it be tomorrow? “We know where your kids go to school”? “Hope you have good life insurance”? “Keep your mouth shut or I’ll have you killed”?

[Spicer] denied that the president was threatening Mr. Comey. “That’s not a threat,” Mr. Spicer said. “He simply stated a fact. The tweet speaks for itself. I’m moving on.”

Of course it’s a threat, Spicey. It is not true that Trump “simply stated a fact.” The wording: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Saying somebody “better” something is not stating a fact, it’s issuing a warning or a threat. If I say “You better shut up” that’s not stating a fact.

Allies and former employees of Mr. Trump have long said that he taped some of his own phone calls, as well as meetings in Trump Tower. During the campaign, Mr. Trump’s aides told reporters that they feared their offices were bugged and that they were careful about what they said.

But the implicit threat to Mr. Comey was ripped from a familiar playbook that Mr. Trump relied on during the campaign to silence critics or dissent.

He threatened on Twitter to tell stories about Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the hosts of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, after they criticized him. He threatened to air unspecified dirty laundry about the wealthy Ricketts family as it financed efforts against him. And competing with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas for the Republican nomination, he threatened to “spill the beans on your wife!”

Oh god. I didn’t even know that. He is so loathsome.

This is unbearable. We knew it would be, that November night, and it is.

In this case, however, the warning came in the context of an F.B.I. investigation. Samuel W. Buell, a Duke University law professor and former federal prosecutor who led the Enron task force, said Mr. Trump’s attempt on Twitter to quiet Mr. Comey could be viewed as an effort to intimidate a witness to any future investigation into whether the firing amounted to obstruction of justice.

“If this were an actual criminal investigation — in other words, if there were a prosecutor and a defense lawyer in the picture — this would draw a severe phone call to counsel warning that the defendant is at serious risk of indictment if he continues to speak to witnesses,” Mr. Buell said. “Thus, this is also definitive evidence that Trump is not listening to counsel and perhaps not even talking to counsel. Unprecedented in the modern presidency.”

And also that he’s trying to intimidate a witness.

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