Former federal prosecutors demand that Donald Trump be investigated for witness tampering
Ex-White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson's surprise testimony at the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol's sixth public hearing on Tuesday, June 28th provided new insight into what transpired throughout former President Donald Trump's administration before, during, and after the insurrection.
One startling tidbit shared by Hutchinson was that she was informed by Trump's Deputy White House Chief of Staff Tony Ornato that Trump had tried to "commandeer" his presidential Chevrolet Suburban and restrain his Secret Service protective detail when he was denied a ride to join his coup-equipped hoarde at the Capitol.
Hutchinson's statements quickly triggered anonymous reports that Secret Service agents were unhappy with what she had told the Committee, however, none of those alleged disputes has been given under oath.
They also unleashed a barrage of vicious character assaults on Hutchinson, who had received menacing text messages related to her cooperation with the bipartisan commission.
On Tuesday, former President Barack Obama's ethics czar Norman Eisen along with former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut of Lawyers Defending American Democracy published a column in Slate outlining why those communications – which were later confirmed by the Select Committee to have been either approved or sent by then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on behalf of Trump – have excavated another layer to the deepening chasm of criminal conduct by Trump World.
Aftergut and Eisen are the latest pair to join the expanding chorus demanding the Justice Department and Attorney General Merrick Garland to "immediately" launch a probe into whether Trump and his associates were intentionally intimidating witnesses.
"The right-wing attacks on her testimony appear to be unfounded— which would make them the post-hearing continuation of the intimidation that may have taken place before she testified. DOJ must investigate under the federal witness intimidation statute, 18 USC 1512(b)," Eisen and Aftergut began.
The two legal experts pointed out that Ornato's credibility is questionable because he "has a history of making dubious claims in service of Trump, including similar attacks on separate statements by other administration officials which reflected negatively on his patron who plucked him from the Secret Service and placed him in a top White House political job."
The quest for truth "thickened when news broke on Friday that there may be independent corroboration for the brunt of Hutchinson’s account," the veteran lawyers noted. "Two Secret Service sources revealed that they heard from multiple agents that 'Trump angrily demanded to go to the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, and berated his protective detail when he didn’t get his way.' One of the sources added that Trump 'had sort of lunged forward—it was unclear from the conversations I had that he actually made physical contact, but he might have. I don’t know.'"
They stressed that while Trump's observed brash behavior was unbecoming of a sitting president, "what matters to a possible criminal prosecution is Trump’s intent and that is shown by his undisputed desire to accompany to the Capitol a mob that, according to other key parts of Hutchinson’s testimony, he knew to be armed and had just exhorted to 'fight like hell.'"
But Trump potentially engaged in another serious crime two more times.
"The current onslaught against Hutchinson has occurred amid emerging evidence of witness tampering targeting her," Eisen and Aftergut wrote. "At the end of the committee’s sixth hearing, Vice-Chair Liz Cheney [R-Wyoming] described two examples of attempts to influence testimony. One witness described a phone call where someone reminded them that 'Trump does read transcripts' but assured them they could 'continue to stay in good graces in Trump World' as long as they remained 'a team player.' In a second example, the witness received a call before their deposition informing them that 'a person' knew they would 'do the right thing' by remaining loyal. It has since been reported that both of these examples targeted Hutchinson."
Those minacious notes "create probable cause to investigate the crime of witness tampering under 18 USC 1512(b)," the men continued, adding that under that statute, "whoever employs intimidation tactics to 'influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding' faces fines and up to 20 years in prison."
The "good cop/bad cop scenario" seems to have occurred by the "'good cops' sending messages attempting to shape testimony in advance," while the "bad cops" operated via Trump's personal ambushes on Hutchinson, Aftergut and Eisen explained. They reminded readers that Trump employed a similar tactic toward his ex-personal attorney Michael Cohen as outlined by then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his 2019 report on the 2016 Trump presidential campaign's ties to Russia.
That, the duo said, was another glaring example of "the bad cop approach." And because Trump never faced any consequences for the crimes that Mueller carefully delineated, he felt unshackled to commit them again.
Aftergut and Eisen concluded that the "Department of Justice should not make the same mistake twice. It should immediately open a witness tampering investigation."
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