It feels like it was only a matter of time before Robert Mueller started investigating Donald Trump’s tweets. And it seems that time has come. The New York Times reports that the special counsel “is scrutinising tweets and negative statements” from the president about James Comey and Jeff Sessions. Specifically, Mueller reportedly wants to know if Trump’s behaviour adds up to obstruction of justice. Boy, there sure are a lot of tweets, too.
The Times report cites three anonymous sources who claim that Mueller is turning to Trump’s relentless remarks about Comey and Sessions, specifically those that relate to the investigation into Russian meddling into the 2016 election. Some of these statements could represent a pattern of intimidating witnesses and pressuring high level officials to stop investigating. Here’s a list from the Times, detailing what Mueller’s interested in:
Mr. Mueller wants to question the president about the tweets. His interest in them is the latest addition to a range of presidential actions he is investigating as a possible obstruction case: private interactions with Mr. Comey, Mr. Sessions and other senior administration officials about the Russia inquiry; misleading White House statements; public attacks; and possible pardon offers to potential witnesses.
That’s a lot of stuff. While the story about Trump privately prompting Comey to pledge his loyalty is widely known by now, other more nuanced interactions – including countless tweets – could also be considered. For example, the Times says that the special counsel will look at statements from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders in addition to Trump’s own statements. The “possible pardon offers” cited in the report, meanwhile, likely refer to Trump’s lawyer offering pardons to Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn last year.
Now about those tweets. President Trump has tweeted a lot, since his inauguration last January. If you narrow those down to tweets about Comey and Sessions, you get a real slurry of accusations and insults. The Times points to a specific set of tweets in which the president appears to ask the Justice Department to investigate Comey. Then again, it’s hard not to remember some of the more famous Trump tweets about Comey and not interpret them as intimidating:
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
As for his tweets about the attorney general, it’s possible that Trump will run into trouble for his complaints about Sessions recusing himself from the Russia investigation. The Times reported back in May that Trump privately asked Sessions to reverse his recusal, an act that could be problematic in the face of tweets like this:
The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax continues, all because Jeff Sessions didn’t tell me he was going to recuse himself...I would have quickly picked someone else. So much time and money wasted, so many lives ruined...and Sessions knew better than most that there was No Collusion!
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2018
Of course, we don’t know exactly what Mueller or his team plan to do next in their investigation. It seems quite clear that the special counsel is turning his attention to the president as some members of Trump’s campaign team – namely Paul Manafort – await trial and sentencing. Mueller has said in the past that he will follow the precedent set by investigations into Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton and will not indict President Trump. If that’s the case, the special counsel could send a report to Congress. It would be up to that body to decide if impeachment hearings should follow.
This wouldn’t be the first time an ill-advised tweet worked against the US president. Last year, a federal appeals court cited one of Trump’s tweets when upholding a block on one of his travel bans. No matter what happens, the world is left with one obvious and powerful conclusion from this latest news: never tweet. [New York Times]
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