Witnesses said they were told they could stay in Trump’s good graces so long as they’re “protecting who I need to protect.”
WASHINGTON ―Legal experts believe that former president Donald Trump and his associates may be trying to influence the House committee on January 6 illegally.
Using two witness comments, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) stated during a hearing on Tuesday that certain witnesses had not testified as “fully and forthrightly” like others due to interference from Trump’s inner circle.
“What they said to me is, ‘As long as I continue to be a team player, they know that I’m on the team, I’m doing the right thing, I’m protecting who I need to protect, you know, I’ll continue to stay in good graces in Trump World,’” a witness told the committee.
The messages can be considered a kind of witness tampering or obstruction of justice in a court of law. Former federal prosecutor Kevin O’Brien told HuffPost that trying to sway witness testimony as the committee looking into the Capitol riot on January 6 would be against the law.
“Anything that would deflect from that course, if undertaken intentionally, is probably a crime,” said O’Brien, now a partner at a white-collar law firm, Ford O’Brien Landy LLP.
Instead of claiming that a crime had been committed, Cheney stated that the committee had learned of “a particular practice that raised significant concern” during its interviews.
The relevant part of the federal law against witness tampering calls for up to 20 years in prison for anyone who “knowingly uses intimidation, threatens, or corruptly persuades another person, or attempts to do so, or engages in misleading conduct toward another person, with intent to… influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding.”
The statute also says it doesn’t count as witness tampering if “the conduct consisted solely of lawful conduct and that the defendant’s sole intention was to encourage, induce, or cause the other person to testify truthfully.”
Although Attorney General Merrick Garland has been evasive about the Justice Govt’s plans, the department has been investigating possible crimes committed by Trump allies. Federal authorities reportedly took documents from Trump supporters Jeffrey Clark, a former deputy attorney general, and John Eastman, a lawyer who counseled Trump on voting fraud. The decision to bring charges against someone lies with Garland, not a House committee.
The majority of the hearing on Tuesday featured shocking testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who claimed that Trump knew some of his supporters who arrived in Washington on January 6, 2021, were armed and dangerous, and that Trump had wanted to go with them to the Capitol, and that Trump was not the least bit upset as they surrounded the building.
“I don’t f**ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me,” Trump said, according to Hutchinson.
The two statements to witnesses that Cheney shared on Tuesday did not include explicit threats.
″[A person] let me know you have your deposition tomorrow,“ someone close to Trump wrote in a partially redacted message to a witness. “He wants me to let you know he’s thinking about you. He knows you’re loyal and you’re going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition.”
Even without a threat, a witness would likely remember that those whom Trump has singled out for disloyalty have been harassed and threatened by his fans if the message comes from him or a close ally.
“If I know that, then I might really be afraid that if Trump is upset with me for not testifying the way that he perceives that I should testify, then not only am I likely to have some consequences to my employment but there could be consequences to my safety or the safety of my family,” Tamara Lave, a law professor at the University of Miami, said in an interview.
Norm Eisen, a former White House Counsel under President Barack Obama, said on Twitter the messages the committee revealed “will certainly lead to the criminal investigation” and maybe prosecution for witness tampering. Harry Litman, a former prosecutor, tweeted that the messages were “a layup of an obstruction felony count.”
O’Brien also said an investigation would be likely. “They will look into this and pursue it because it goes to the heart of what the Justice Department does,” he said. “It can’t bring cases properly if witnesses are allowed to be intimidated or corruptly persuaded.”
Prosecutors have previously examined how Trump has treated witnesses. Trump participated in “efforts in both public and private to encourage witnesses not to cooperate with the investigation” during a special counsel investigation into his attempts to thwart an investigation into his 2016 campaign, Special Counsel Robert Mueller stated in his final report. These efforts included presenting witnesses with the possibility of federal pardons. Mueller came to the conclusion that he could not clear Trump of obstructing justice.
“I think most Americans know that attempting to influence witnesses to testify untruthfully presents very serious concerns,” Cheney said at the hearing. “We will be discussing these issues as a committee, carefully considering our next steps.”