Michael Cohen decided to turn on his former boss President Donald Trump long ago, but he did it again in pretty stark fashion on Wednesday. Cohen announced through his attorney-turned-spokesman Lanny Davis that he would be cancelling his testimony before Congress because of “ongoing threats” from Trump and Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Needless to say, the reaction from legal observers and others can be simplified to two words: witness tampering.
Witness tampering is very much illegal and not cool.
— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) January 23, 2019
Pretty concrete evidence of witness tampering by the President here, if there wasn’t enough already. https://t.co/8Z87gL2K5r
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) January 23, 2019
“Siri, what is witness tampering?” https://t.co/r7B0AZjVz1
— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) January 23, 2019
Note: That Cohen officially cancels his testimony can be used as evidence that Trump's witness tampering worked.
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) January 23, 2019
Siri, show me an example of Witness Tampering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512. https://t.co/sQMzW79gWe
— Jennifer Taub (@jentaub) January 18, 2019
Cohen is delaying his testimony due to threats from Trump and Giuliani.
Here is 18 U.S.C. § 1512:
"Whoever knowingly uses intimidation, threatens … or attempts to do so … with intent to … influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person" is guilty of a felony. https://t.co/e6T7A67dct
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) January 23, 2019
As Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) noted, 18 U.S.C. § 1512 is the law against witness tampering. What you will find when reading is that there are many ways to tamper with a witness and serious punishments for doing so:
(b) Whoever 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—
(1) influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding;
(2) cause or induce any person to—
(A) withhold testimony, or withhold a record, document, or other object, from an official proceeding;
(B) alter, destroy, mutilate, or conceal an object with intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding;
(C) evade legal process summoning that person to appear as a witness, or to produce a record, document, or other object, in an official proceeding; or
(D) be absent from an official proceeding to which such person has been summoned by legal process; or
(3) hinder, delay, or prevent the communication to a law enforcement officer or judge of the United States of information relating to the commission or possible commission of a Federal offense or a violation of conditions of probation ] supervised release, parole, or release pending judicial proceedings;
shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.
It’s not the only time Trump has been accused of witness tampering. Law&Crime’s Colin Kalmbacher previously explored how Special Counsel Robert Mueller would be able to bring charges for such an offense.
In case you missed it, Cohen’s statement, released through Davis, said that Cohen will not be appearing before the House on February 7, as originally planned, in part due to threats from Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani.
“Mr. Cohen volunteered to testify before the House Oversight Committee on February 7th,” the statement said. “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.”
As Law&Crime noted earlier, it appeared Davis was focusing on President Trump and Giuliani’s recent statements about Cohen’s father-in-law.
“[Cohen] should give information maybe on his father-in-law, because that’s the one that people want to look at,” Trump said during a January 12 interview on Fox News. “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.”
Legal experts, including Law&Crime’s Ronn Blitzer, have offered a different perspective on Wednesday’s events, however.
By referencing threats, Cohen can let people run wild with speculation of witness tampering without ever having to actually accuse anyone of tampering. It’s no secret that Cohen has a bone to pick with the president, since he’s about to go to prison for helping him. I’m sure he’d love to bring Trump down with him, and this statement will surely delight those who would be happy to help.
Others also responded with skepticism.
I'm somewhat skeptical Cohen actually canceled because of the threats from Trump, but that doesn't make Trump's threats any less of a dangerous abuse of power worthy of a full investigation by Congress.
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) January 23, 2019
Still others, like Cohen nemesis Michael Avenatti, flat out said Team Cohen was full of it.
As I predicted. This has nothing to do with threats or his family and everything to do with Cohen avoiding further charges, having to be accountable for his actions, and avoiding answering tough questions about his conspiracy and Trump’s role. Cohen is no hero and no John Dean. https://t.co/0C5YwSy4WD
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) January 23, 2019
[Image via Yana Paskova/Getty Images]