UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. ...
Tom Williams

As Mueller focuses on Trump tweets, Giuliani addresses obstruction

Updated

Donald Trump has many curious habits, but near the top of the list is his insistence on tweeting his internal monologue, regardless of the missives’ impact on his reputation.

But what about the impact on the president’s legal standing? According to the New York Times, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is scrutinizing the online messages – paying particular attention to Trump tweets about former FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions – as part of the investigation into the Russia scandal.

Several of the remarks came as Mr. Trump was also privately pressuring the men – both key witnesses in the inquiry – about the investigation, and Mr. Mueller is examining whether the actions add up to attempts to obstruct the investigation by both intimidating witnesses and pressuring senior law enforcement officials to tamp down the inquiry. […]

The special counsel’s investigators have told Mr. Trump’s lawyers they are examining the tweets under a wide-ranging obstruction-of-justice law beefed up after the Enron accounting scandal, according to the three people. The investigators did not explicitly say they were examining possible witness tampering, but the nature of the questions they want to ask the president, and the fact that they are scrutinizing his actions under a section of the United States Code titled “Tampering With a Witness, Victim, or an Informant,” raised concerns for his lawyers about Mr. Trump’s exposure in the investigation.

Trump’s rhetoric has been used against him and his administration many times since the president took office, so it stands to reason Trump’s social-media rhetoric would matter, too.

But that’s not my favorite part of the story. What struck me as especially important was the quote from Rudy Giuliani, ostensibly a member of the president’s legal defense team, who dismissed Mueller’s reported interest in Trump tweets.

“If you’re going to obstruct justice, you do it quietly and secretly, not in public,” Giuliani told the New York Times.

Well, maybe. In most situations, we wouldn’t expect to see someone obstruct justice in plain view. It’s more likely we’d see a president, for example, urge an FBI director to pledge his loyalty to him while also urging the bureau’s chief to go easy on his scandal-plagued White House national security adviser.

Just to pick two hypothetical examples of possible obstruction at random.

But Trump is a rather unique individual, who appears more than capable of obstructing justice publicly and privately. We are, after all, talking about a president with no real impulse control, and no real appreciation for the consequences of his actions.

Clever individuals wouldn’t turn to Twitter to obstruct justice, but it’s quite easy to imagine Trump seeing something on television, getting all worked up, and publishing incriminating tweets without a whole lot of thought.

In other words, no one should be too quick to dismiss the legal significance of Trump’s Twitter account, which may very well pose a risk to the future of his presidency.