Opinion writer

The other day, President Trump bravely subjected himself to questioning by hard-hitting journalist Jeanine Pirro of Fox News, where he vaguely suggested that he was aware of damaging information on the family members of longtime Trump fixer-turned-"rat" (Trump’s word) Michael Cohen.

“Nobody knows what’s going on over there,” Trump said of Cohen’s father-in-law, suggesting that people should “look into it.” Trump has also fired off similar tweets about Cohen, which legal experts have said looks like witness tampering.

It looks like this effort has paid off exactly as Trump apparently hoped:

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer, will not testify before Congress next month, one of his attorneys said Wednesday — which could quash, at least temporarily, liberals’ hopes for a public hearing in which Trump’s ex-fixer aired the president’s dirty laundry.

Lanny J. Davis, an attorney for Cohen, said in a statement, “Due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and [Rudolph] 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.” Cohen had been scheduled to appear before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 7.

“This is a time where Mr. Cohen had to put his family and their safety first,” Davis said.

Top Democrats had warned Trump against witness tampering after his initial comments about Cohen. On Wednesday, the two Democratic chairs of the Intelligence and Oversight committees, Reps. Adam B. Schiff and Elijah E. Cummings, put out a new statement noting that Cohen had good reason to feel intimidated against testifying before Congress, and suggesting that Trump had engaged in “mob tactics” that violate our “nation’s laws.”

It’s not clear what the practical impact of this will be. It already looked like Cohen might be severely constrained from talking about matters involving Trump that he has testified about to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. So it’s possible Trump’s success in getting Cohen to stand down might not end up denying us all that much information we might otherwise have gotten.

But whatever the truth about that, this is yet another episode in which Trump has plainly abused his powers. Now what?

This whole episode is worth looking at in light of a recent interview that Schiff gave to NPR, one that still hasn’t gotten enough attention, in which the congressman raised the possibility that, slowly but surely, all avenues to accountability for Trump are getting closed off.

In that interview, Schiff noted that Trump’s pick for attorney general, William P. Barr, has suggested that sitting presidents should not be subject to indictment, and also that it’s not clear whether Barr will end up sharing sufficient information about Mueller’s findings with Congress. As Schiff pointed out, if impeachment is the only direct sanction for severe misconduct, yet Barr ends up keeping key information from getting out, thus making impeachment harder (never mind how difficult removal would be with the GOP Senate), that would seem to be foreclosing ways Trump might be held accountable for that misconduct.

As Schiff put it, this raises the worrisome prospect that, in effect, we are not going to have “rule of law,” and instead, Trump will have “immunity.” The only recourse for House Democrats in this scenario, Schiff argued, is for them to develop a “record” of Trump’s mounting misconduct to share “with the country.”

In a way, that may be all we can hope for when it comes to abuses such as this latest successful attack on a potential witness to Congress.

“It’s clear there ought to be some sort of sanction for the president’s actions,” Matt Miller, a former spokesman for the Justice Department, told me Wednesday. “In this instance, you don’t need to have too extensive an investigation, since he intimidated this witness right out in the open, but if Congress ever does get to the point of acting on the high crimes and misdemeanors he’s committed, this would pretty clearly fit the bill.”

We don’t know where this is all going. For now we must take every abuse and enter it faithfully into the record, and hope for the best.