'Someone explain the extortion and intimidating a witness laws to this guy': Intel experts weigh in on Trump Ukraine scandal

'Someone explain the extortion and intimidating a witness laws to this guy': Intel experts weigh in on Trump Ukraine scandal
CNN

Speaking at a United Nations event in New York City on Thursday, President Donald Trump angrily railed against the whistleblower in the federal government who came forward with information about his July 25 phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump implied to the audience that in the past, that whistleblower and those who helped the whistleblower would have faced execution for treason. And some prominent Democrats, along with legal and national security experts, are asserting that Trump’s words amount to threatening a witness.


According to the Los Angeles Times, Trump told the UN audience, “I want to know who’s the person, who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart, right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”

Thanks to that whistleblower, Trump is now facing an impeachment inquiry for trying to pressure Zelensky into digging up dirt on a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, during former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, was adamantly opposed to impeachment — she was the most prominent anti-impeachment voice in the Democratic Party. But Pelosi found the whistleblower’s allegations so troubling that earlier this week, she came out in favor of an impeachment inquiry.

Attorney Neal Katyal, who served as acting solicitor general under President Barack Obama, told “Morning Joe” hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC on Friday morning that he considers Trump’s whistleblower-related comments at the UN event “potentially criminal” because they could amount to “threatening” a government witness.

Katyal said, “I was so disgusted by that…. It is the last thing we should expect from the president of the United States.”

Katyal is hardly the only well-known Democrat who is speaking out. In a joint statement, three prominent House Democrats — Rep. Eliot Engel (chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee), Rep. Adam Schiff (who chairs the House Intelligence Committee) and House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings — asserted, “We condemn the president’s attacks, and we invite our Republican counterparts to do the same because Congress must do all it can to protect this whistleblower and all whistleblowers. Threats of violence from the leader of our country have a chilling effect on the entire whistleblower process, with grave consequences for our democracy and national security.”

On Thursday night, Sen. Kamala Harris (a former prosecutor) told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, “He sounds like a criminal — ‘who snitched? Who gave up the goods?.... It sounds like it’s straight out of some bad drama, but the fact is: this is the president of the United States.” And another presidential candidate, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, told MSNBC, “It’s not surprising that Donald Trump doesn’t know the difference between patriotism and treason. If there’s any treasonous actions here, it is coming from the White House.”

Ian Bassin, a former associate White House Counsel under Obama, tweeted, “The president just implied that numerous public servants and high ranking officials who he deems as disloyal to his personal interests perhaps should be executed.” And attorney Bradley P. Moss, a national security expert, said of Trump, “Someone explain the extortion and intimidating a witness laws to this guy.”

Trump is receiving some blowback from the right as well. Attorney George Conway, an outspoken anti-Trump conservative, tweeted, “Threatening actual and potential witnesses, of course, constitutes obstruction of justice."

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