When BuzzFeed News published an article saying Special Counsel Robert Mueller had conclusive evidence that President Donald Trump suborned perjury from Michael Cohen, the report created an unprecedented response in Congress and the public. Many prominent public officials and commentators began openly speaking of impeachment in ways they were previously hesitant to suggest.
But as I argued Friday, BuzzFeed’s allegations, though significant, should not consume more of our attention than Trump’s brazen attempts to intimidate Cohen into withholding his testimony.
Then Mueller’s office issued a vague response to BuzzFeed, calling parts of its story “not accurate.” This deflated much of the enthusiasm for finally holding Trump accountable — demonstrating the shortsightedness of emphasizing reports of supposedly secret evidence over the evidence we have in front of our eyes.
And on Wednesday, Cohen announced that he will be postponing his testimony before Congress scheduled for Feb. 7 — citing “threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. Giuliani” in a statement issued by spokesperson Lanny Davis.
This should emphasize the fact that Trump’s clear attempts to openly dissuade Cohen from testifying — including his calls for Cohen’s father-in-law to be investigated — is just as bad as the supposed suborning perjury that the president was accused of in the BuzzFeed story. In fact, as I argued even before Mueller contradicted the BuzzFeed report, witness intimidation should be seen as worse than suborning perjury, because it involves threats and an unrelated third party in addition to the denying Congress truthful testimony.
After Cohen pulled out of the planned hearing, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) indicated that Trump’s actions amount to criminal witness intimidation:
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
“Witness tampering is very much illegal and not cool,” said national security lawyer Bradley Moss.
Lawyer and legal analyst Luppe Luppen noted: “If we’re not going to police open and notorious intimidation of a witness before Congress, what hope is there of Congress being able to perform its oversight and impeachment functions?”