House chairmen warn Trump not to ‘obstruct’ after the president issues thinly-veiled threat to Michael Cohen
On Saturday, Donald Trump made an apparently impromptu call-in to a Fox News program to push back against new press stories that revealed the FBI had launched a counterterrorism investigation to determine whether the sitting president was working as an agent for the Russian government. He refused to specifically answer whether the allegations were true, deflecting by saying it was "the most insulting thing I've ever been asked" and that "they found absolutely nothing."
But Trump also made what seemed like a public threat towards his longtime attorney Michael Cohen, scheduled to testify before Congress on his actions on behalf of Trump. Along with a string of insults aimed at Cohen, Trump also mused that Cohen should instead "give information maybe on his father in law, because that's the one that people want to look at," he suggested to host Jeanine Pirro. "I don't know [his name], but you'll find out, and you'll look into it because nobody knows what's going on over there."
(Trump also insisted he had not "left the White House in months", despite being widely photographed in Texas just last Thursday.)
The televised public attacks on a soon-to-be congressional witness, including against that witness' family members, did not go unnoticed. Reps. Elijah Cummings, Adam Schiff, and Jerrold Nadler, chairs of the Oversight, Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, issued a joint statement today in response to that Fox News interview warning Trump that he is not above the law.
The integrity of our process to serve as an independent check on the Executive Branch must be respected by everyone, including the President. Our nation’s laws prohibit efforts to discourage, intimidate, or otherwise pressure a witness not to provide testimony to Congress. The President should make no statement or take any action to obstruct Congress’ independent oversight and investigative efforts, including by seeking to discourage any witness from testifying in response to a duly authorized request from Congress.
If the purpose of Trump's attacks on Cohen and his family was to pressure Cohen to soften his congressional testimony or to discourage him from giving it, it would count as witness tampering. That may be among the least of Trump's current worries, as U.S. officials continue to investigate Trump's finances, his campaign's myriad links to Russian figures and interests, and his Russia-supportive actions as president, but it is an impeachable offense on its own. The blunt language the Democratic committee chairs are using here is an indication that now they will not be ignoring such threats as recent Republican chairs have so persistently done.