President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen indefinitely postponed his upcoming congressional testimony Wednesday, citing “ongoing threats against his family from President Trump” and his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani. Threats from the duo reached Cohen and his family as recently as this weekend, according to a statement from Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis.
On Wednesday afternoon, Trump responded to the announcement, denying the allegations.
“He’s only been threatened by the truth,” the president said.
A recent spate of Trump attacks arrived after BuzzFeed broke a story late on Jan. 17 alleging that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team had collected evidence that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress.
Trump took to Twitter on Friday, suggesting that Cohen’s father-in-law should be investigated.
“Lying to reduce his jail time! Watch father-in-law!” he wrote, after reminding 57.7 million followers that Cohen “has already been convicted of perjury and fraud, and as recently as this week, the Wall Street Journal has suggested that he may have stolen tens of thousands of dollars."
Over the weekend, he and Giuliani implied the same on national television — Trump to Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro and Guiliani on CNN.
In an interview Thursday on “Good Morning America,” Davis responded to Guiliani’s commentary, urging his indictment.
“Calling out a man’s father-in-law and wife in order to intimidate the witness is not fair game,” he said. “Mr. Giuliani has committed a crime or at least should be indicted for that crime on the face of what he said."
In December, Trump harangued Mueller and witnesses to his ongoing Russia investigation.
One tweet attacked Cohen a week after he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the president’s real estate project in Russia. Trump alleged that Cohen lied to Mueller and demanded that his former fixer “serve a full and complete sentence.” (After the overt attack on Cohen came a tweet encouraging Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to Trump, not to become a witness against him.)
Legal experts called the missives a newsworthy development that could amount to evidence of obstructing justice.
Norman Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said in December that the most striking thing was that there were two statements in proximity.
“It comes very close to the statutory definition of witness tampering,” he said. “He may have crossed the legal line.”
Respected figures across party lines also responded to Trump’s tweets on the social media platform.
Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) called it “serious” then, adding that “the President of the United States should not be using his platform to influence potential witnesses in a federal investigation involving his campaign.”
Attorney George Conway, husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, then referenced the federal statute most likely to create legal liability for Trump: 18 U.S.C. §§ 1512, which outlines the crime of witness tampering.
“Donald Trump is not acting like an innocent man, he is acting like he is afraid of the truth,” former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal said Wednesday.
Tampering with a witness is an obstruction of justice.
It’s a federal crime for an individual to intimidate, threaten or “corruptly persuade” another person with the goal of influencing or preventing his or her testimony.
Cohen was scheduled to testify publicly before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 7, at the invitation of the committee’s chairman, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.).
In a joint statement, Cummings and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.),* chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, acknowledged Cohen’s “legitimate concerns,” adding that “efforts to intimidate witnesses, scare their family members, or prevent them from testifying before Congress are textbook mob tactics that we condemn in the strongest terms.”
There is a certain amount of ambiguity in Trump’s statements, leaving wiggle room for his defenders to say he was not making threats but blowing off steam.
As the chief executive, the president oversees criminal prosecution of federal cases. Unlike firing federal officials, directly encouraging a potential witness not to cooperate in an investigation involving his own conduct is significant.
Cohen’s decision not to testify out of fear for his family could be yet another basis for the now-Democrat-controlled House to determine that Trump engaged in an abuse of power.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly referenced Rep. Adam Schiff as a congressman from Massachusetts. He is from California.