Watergate Prosecutor: Trump May Have Committed a Crime With Tweets During Manafort Trial

President Donald Trump offered support for his former campaign manager Paul Manafort during Manafort’s criminal trial in Virginia federal court, but his words could very well be grounds for a criminal charge, according to Former Watergate Assistant Special Prosecutor and MSNBC contributor Jill Wine-Banks.

In a Wednesday morning tweet, Trump mentioned the work Manafort did for Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole, and called the charges against him a “Hoax,” as they have nothing to do with his campaign colluding with Russia.

Trump also lamented the supposed poor treatment of Manafort, who was placed in solitary confinement, “although convicted of nothing,” implying that he’s being treated worse than Al Capone.

Wine-Banks appeared on “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” Wednesday night and noted the problem with Trump’s tweets about Manafort, saying she thinks they’re a message to jurors to acquit Manafort. In other words, it could be jury tampering, which is a crime

“Because the jury isn’t sequestered, they may see this,” Wine-Banks said.

“He’s going out of his way to say things that were laudatory about this defendant, and it’s just simply inappropriate for a president of the United States to use a public means of communicating, which Twitter is.” Wine-Banks noted that a judge recently ruled that Trump’s Twitter account was a public forum, and therefore he’s not allowed to block users from viewing or commenting on his posts. Trump has also noted that he uses Twitter as a means of communicating directly with the American people.

“I think he’s using a public forum to send a message to the jury that he should not have his former campaign chair convicted of anything,” Wine-Banks said.

According to federal law, “Whoever corruptly … endeavors to influence, intimidate, or impede any grand or petit juror, or officer in or of any court of the United States,” can face up to 10 years in prison. A separate statute that covers influencing jurors through writing says:

Whoever attempts to influence the action or decision of any grand or petit juror of any court of the United States upon any issue or matter pending before such juror, or before the jury of which he is a member, or pertaining to his duties, by writing or sending to him any written communication, in relation to such issue or matter, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

A public tweet may or may not satisfy that, as a tweet is not a communication sent to a specific juror. Some states have jury tampering laws that do include indirect messages, though.

Wine-Banks acknowledged that jurors are instructed to stay away from media reports or researching the case that they’re hearing. She said that jurors generally “take instructions like that very seriously, and will really follow it,” but “this is a different world.”

O’Donnell noted that they may intend to follow the instructions, but might go on Twitter to see other people’s posts and come across Trump’s messages inadvertently.

Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, an established Trump critic, made a similar argument on Twitter. Tribe cited other Trump quotes, which called the Manafort trial a “disgrace to the USA,” saying that messages like this could be considered obstruction of justice.

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