lunes, 3 de diciembre de 2018

Trump hails Roger Stone's 'guts' at start of dangerous Russia week

Some critics said a presidential tweet about Stone was witness tampering, as the White House braces for two new Mueller court filings by Friday.

President Donald Trump wasted little time after returning from a global summit in Argentina before lashing out at Robert Mueller, kicking off a week in which the special counsel’s Russia probe could bring major new headaches for Trump.

In a combative tweet Monday, Trump celebrated the defiance of his occasional political adviser, Roger Stone, who has faced mounting scrutiny from Mueller’s team over his possible contacts with Wikileaks during the 2016 election.

The tweet came ahead of two key court filings due from Mueller this week — including one detailing alleged lies by Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort — which could shed important new light on the special counsel’s investigation into 2016 Russian election interference.

But on Monday, it was Trump’s longtime associate Stone who had his attention.

"'I will never testify against Trump.' This statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about 'President Trump,'" Trump wrote in the mid-morning tweet.
"Nice to know that some people still have 'guts!'" he added.

Within minutes, Trump’s critics accused him of using the social media platform to interfere with Mueller’s investigation.
“File under ’18 USC §§ 1503, 1512,’” wrote George Conway, the conservative attorney and frequent presidential critic who is married to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. That was a reference to criminal statutes dealing with influencing a grand jury and tampering with a witness.

“George is right,” added Neal Katyal, the former Obama-era acting solicitor general. “This is genuinely looking like witness tampering.” He added that the Justice Department “prosecutes cases like these all the time. The fact it’s done out in the open is no defense.”

Trump’s tweet about Stone picked up where he left off when he left Washington last Thursday for the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires. Shortly before Trump’s departure, his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a Trump Organization real estate deal in Moscow that he pursued as late as mid-2016. Trump fumed about the plea to reporters before boarding Marine One at the White House, and he kept harping on the topic with a succession of tweets between meetings with world leaders in the South American capital.

Now back in the United States, Trump's obsession with the Mueller investigation is unlikely to be tempered.

Mueller is due to file a key pre-sentencing report Tuesday in federal district court outlining the extent of cooperation his office has received from Michael Flynn, the former Trump national security adviser who pleaded guilty last December for lying to the FBI.

On Friday, Mueller’s prosecutors are scheduled to file a more detailed assessment of what they believe Manafort lied about to investigators that led them to shred their recent plea agreement.

Some former prosecutors believe Mueller could use the opportunity to provide dramatic new details about his investigation, though it is possible the document will be limited in scope.

If recent history is a guide, the courtroom action will likely provoke Trump into more tweeting, which legal experts say could serve as a real-time resource for Russia investigators.

“They’re a gold mine,” former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg said of the Trump Twitter archives in an interview last year.
But whether messages like the one Trump sent on Monday about Stone could really constitute grounds for criminal action remains subject to debate

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti suggested in a Twitter thread Monday that the president's post exposes him to prosecution. But he added that would require Mueller "to prove, among other things, that Trump had 'corrupt' intent and acted with the intent to cause Stone to withhold testimony."

Sol Wisenberg, a former federal prosecutor who served on independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s team during its wide-ranging probe of President Bill Clinton, said it was “shameful” for Trump to be commenting at length about an ongoing investigation via social media. But he disputed that the tweet broke any criminal law.

“Could it be something they throw into impeachment? Hell yeah. But show me a case where it’d be witness tampering,” Wisenberg said.
Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani defended the president’s message on Monday. “He is praising Stone for telling the truth and not succumbing to the Special Counsel’s unrelenting pressure to lie,” the former New York mayor told POLITICO.

The president’s reference to Stone came on the heels of the longtime GOP operative’s Sunday appearance on ABC's "This Week," where he said that there's "no circumstance in which I would testify against the president."

Stone has denied multiple times that he had any direct knowledge that WikiLeaks was going to release hacked emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign. But legal documents show that Mueller believes otherwise.

Also Sunday, Stone said that he has not discussed a pardon for himself or for Manafort, who was convicted in a financial fraud trial brought by Mueller. The president told the New York Post last week that he has "never discussed" a pardon for Manfort, but "wouldn't take it off the table."

"I've had no discussion regarding a pardon," Stone said over the weekend.

Kicking off his Monday, Trump on Twitter lambasted Cohen for his guilty plea and urged the judge presiding in the case to give his former lawyer a “full and complete sentence.” The president also continued to denounce Mueller's investigation into whether Russia colluded with Trump's presidential campaign, claiming without evidence that the special counsel "only wants lies."

Stone during his Sunday interview claimed that Mueller wanted him to "bear false witness against" Trump, adding that he "would have to make things up."

"Bob Mueller (who is a much different man than people think) and his out of control band of Angry Democrats, don’t want the truth, they only want lies," Trump tweeted Monday. "The truth is very bad for their mission!"

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