Aides to President Donald Trump fear what he might do when and if Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report reveals what they told investigators, according to multiple outlets on Tuesday.
One Republican told CNN that the tensions are “very high” as the White House waits for the report.
“They cooperated and had to tell the truth,” the Republican said. “He is going to go bonkers.”
“They got asked questions and told the truth, and now they’re worried the wrath will follow,” a former White House official told NBC News.
Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor and legal analyst for CNN, noted that these fears aren’t mere palace intrigue — they could presage crimes by the president.
“Trump needs to be careful here,” Honig tweeted. “It is a federal crime to retaliate against a witness who has provided information to law enforcement. (18 USC 1513 if you want to look it up).”
The relevant section of the statute reads as follows:
Whoever knowingly, with the intent to retaliate, takes any action harmful to any person, including interference with the lawful employment or livelihood of any person, for providing to a law enforcement officer any truthful information relating to the commission or possible commission of any Federal offense, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.
So if, in a hypothetical scenario, the report reveals that a current employee of the Trump Organization or the White House told Mueller damaging or unflattering information about the president, and Trump fires them in retaliation, he could be committing a crime.
There are several potential saving graces for the president here. First, many of the people who are known to have testified in the investigation — Hope Hicks, John Kelly, Reince Priebus, Don McGahn — no longer work for him. It would thus be harder, and perhaps less tempting, for him to retaliate against them. Second, impulsive as he may be, Trump may be wary enough from the problems caused by firing former FBI Director James Comey that he would hesitate before lashing out in response to the Mueller report.
And even if Trump did commit the crime of retaliating against a witness, it’s not clear who would or could bring charges. He’s already committed so many outrageous and obstructive acts during the course of the investigation — acts the report itself will presumably detail — that Republicans in Congress have shown little interest in holding him accountable for. There’s little chance that one more crime would push them over the edge.