Editor’s Note: First of two parts on alleged witness tampering within the Trump administration, with Part Two coming soon. Stay tuned.
Is continuing to pursue a business deal with a hostile foreign nation while running for the White House a crime, especially if you’ve vehemently denied the existence of such dealings over and over again?
The country may never find out.
On Feb. 11, former Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen postponed planned testimony for the third time, with his anticipated stretch in the pokey swiftly approaching. Set to report to prison on March 6, Cohen officially canceled his Feb. 12 testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence due to “post-surgery medical needs.”
Cohen was subpoenaed to appear before the committee after pleading guilty to tax crimes, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress during his previous visit to the Senate in 2017.
Without additional information from Cohen, on Feb. 12, the Senate committee issued an official statement finding “no direct evidence of conspiracy” between the Trump campaign and Russia.
For the Republican-controlled Senate, the announcement highlights the view of its chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), a position not shared by his Democratic colleagues. The disagreement is along party lines about the information they have collected.
The announcement also highlights yet another edition of our ongoing series that points out seemingly obvious crimes by the current White House that continue to go unpunished.
It’s important to note that such a crisis can only happen when Congress is not fulfilling its duty to provide a check to the executive branch, something that has been missing since a then Republican-controlled Congress welcomed Trump on Jan. 20, 2017.
Cohen was expected to appear before three congressional committees when 2019 began, but things changed after statements were made against Cohen’s family on television in January, when current Trump personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani and the president appeared on talk shows.
One could deduce his cooperation with authorities, but apprehension to testify may have been tied to the perceived threats the two made against Cohen’s father-in-law.
The threats caused Cohen to scrap his first planned appearance before Congress in 2019 out of fear for the lives of his father-in-law and his family. Cohen finally appeared behind closed doors yesterday for the Senate Intelligence Committee and his Feb. 7 public hearing before the House Oversight Committee was postponed until today. The former Trump personal attorney also canceled a Feb. 8 closed-door session with the House Intelligence Committee, but that will be held tomorrow.
Cohen pleaded guilty to crimes in which he implicated Trump as “Individual 1” regarding the payment of porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal for their silence during his run for president. Cohen further stated Trump directed him to lie to Congress back in 2017 about a real estate deal he’d pursued during the 2016 campaign that would have placed a Trump Tower in Moscow.
On Jan. 12, the president appeared on the Fox News program of former Judge Jeanine Pirro and began what could easily be seen as a public campaign by the most powerful man in the world to intimidate Cohen from further testifying.
“(Cohen) should give more information, maybe on his father-in-law, because that’s the one that people want to look at. Because where does that money — that’s the money in the family. And I guess he didn’t want to talk about his father-in-law — he’s trying to get his sentence reduced. So, it’s pretty sad. It’s weak and it’s very sad to watch a thing like that.”
Donnie Twitter Thumbs’ appearance on Fox may have appeared to be a hit job on Cohen’s family, but days later Giuliani alleged on the Jan. 20 edition of CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper, that Cohen’s father-in-law, later identified as Fima Shusterman, “may have ties to something called organized crime.”
At the time, Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, told ABC News that Guiliani’s on-air rant was not just an opinion, it was a crime. “Calling out a man’s father-in-law and wife in order to intimidate the witness is not fair game.” The combination of the two appearances may have convinced Trump’s former dirty bag man to stop running his yap.
“Due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. Giuliani, as recently as this weekend, as well as Mr. Cohen’s continued cooperation with ongoing investigations, by advice of counsel, Mr. Cohen’s appearance will be postponed to a later date,” Davis said.
According to Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, interviewed about the statements in HillReporter.com, such comments could constitute witness tampering. He said “tampering” amounted to a more serious crime, as the punishment for intimidating a witness carries a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison, and it is considered a felony under federal law.
Back in January, the attacks by Trump and Giuliani did not go over well for Democrats who expected to get answers from the former Trump right-hand man on Feb. 7.
According to a joint statement from House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.); Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.); and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.):
“The integrity of our process to serve as an independent check on the Executive Branch must be respected by everyone, including the President. Our nation’s laws prohibit efforts to discourage, intimidate, or otherwise pressure a witness not to provide testimony to Congress. The President should make no statement or take any action to obstruct Congress’ independent oversight and investigative efforts, including by seeking to discourage any witness from testifying in response to a duly authorized request from Congress.”
The House warning was obviously lost on Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz (R- Fla.) who taunted Cohen in a tweet yesterday that questioned, among other things: his father-in-law’s knowledge of alleged mistresses and his wife’s commitment to her marriage while he serves his upcoming jail sentence.
With no legal action taken to discipline the president or Giuliani in the past, it’s doubtful anything will be done to stop a sitting member Congress from also threatening Cohen. He is set to appear before the House later today publicly and tomorrow in a closed session.