Cassidy Hutchinson couldn’t be intimidated. It was revealed this week that former aide to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is now cooperate with the Ministry of Justice despite receiving a thinly veiled threat from an anonymous caller just before testifying before the House committee investigating the January 6 uprising earlier this month — a threat she shrugged off.
The caller told her he was aware of her upcoming testimony, which had not yet been made public, and ominously urged her to “do the right thing” when she told the committee about President Donald Trump’s actions around the storming of the Capitol by the crowd. However, the warning to Hutchinson did not sidetrack the investigation. She still told the committee that Trump knew some of the protesters were armed, but nevertheless tried to join them at the Capitol, but were thwarted by the intervention of Secret Service agents.
It may have been Trump’s luck that the January 6 commission witness turned down his appeal.
This was not the only call. It turns out the former president himself attempted to reach a potential witness, with a source telling NBC News earlier this month that he had posted. telephone conversation with a member of White House support staff who was in conversation with the committee.
There is little reason to wonder why Trump did it. When the once and possibly future most powerful person in the world contacts a low-ranking White House employee with whom, according to CNN reporting, he rarely had contact even during his administration, it is safe to conclude that he did not inquire about the person’s health or the weather.
As almost everyone is no doubt realizing, the only likely purpose of such a phone call was to influence the witness’ testimony in a favorable direction, perhaps with an implicit reminder of the good or bad things that might follow an appearance before the Commission.
To their credit, the staff member, who has remained anonymous, recognized the caller ID, refused to answer and notified their lawyer – who then alerted the committee. As Committee Vice-Chairman Liz Cheney explainedthe incident was so disturbing that it was referred to the Department of Justice, presumably to launch a witness tampering investigation.
Nevertheless, there is a lot of territory between what everyone naturally assumes – that Trump tried to tamper with a witness – and a criminal charge, let alone a conviction. Successful prosecution requires more information than Cheney has provided so far.
The conditions of the federal witness tampering statute are strict. They apply to those who “corrupt” try to persuade someone to withhold testimony or refuse to appear in “official proceedings”. The requirement that a defendant must have “corrupted” intended to influence the witness’ testimony is necessary to protect otherwise innocent conduct, such as advising a sick relative to stay home rather than appear in court, or advising a client that a subpoena is likely to be flawed.
In addition, a witness’s own interpretation of ambiguous circumstances – “I felt intimidated” – is inconclusive unless there is additional evidence of real intention. Although the intention may be derivative given the surrounding circumstances, an unanswered phone call gives prosecutors little to work with, despite the blatant implication that Trump was up to no good.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has typically been reluctant to charge a former president with corrupt intent, so that in itself is a hurdle in a case against Trump. The broader political environment in which Republicans are likely to oppose such an accusation only makes the effort more difficult.
This represents a shift for the GOP. In 1999, Republicans were quick to accuse a president of witness tampering. The second article of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, for obstruction of justice, including a count that accused him of making “false and misleading statements” against his assistants and staff members, some of whom were “potential witnesses in a federal grand jury” proceeding. Clinton’s outrages were echoed by the unsuspecting witnesses, “giving the grand jury false and misleading information.”
Clinton always claimed he only lied to protect his family and spare himself the embarrassment of admitting adultery, but the House impeachment managers insisted it was all part of a… corrupt “plan to delay, hinder, obscure and conceal the existence of evidence.” An overwhelming majority of Republicans voted for the second article to impeach Clinton House of Representatives and condemn him in the Senate (but they didn’t get the two-thirds vote it took to remove him from office).
Now political dynamics among conservatives are so opposed to deriving indirect influence over other parties that they are unwilling to even extend that norm to a football coach. The six Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices recently ruled in favor of an assistant soccer coach in Bremerton, Washington, who refused to stop kneeling in midfield, in violation of school board policy.
The coach’s very public profession of Christianity was joined by students and spectators, some of whom swarmed the field, including members of opponents who accepted invitations to participate. Other students – in a diverse community including Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Bahá’ís and atheists – either felt pressured or excludedfor fear that they would lose playing time or scholarships.
It doesn’t matter, the Supreme Court majority said, as there was “no evidence that students were directly forced to pray” with the coach, who has all intentions to pressure his students “to participate in any religious activity.” ” rejected. The virtual certainty that teens would see the public prayers as something “expected” of them, as one student put it in an amicus briefing, was irrelevant as long as the coach’s implicit message went unspoken.
It may have been Trump’s luck that the January 6 commission witness turned down his appeal. Without evidence of overt pressure, it will likely be impossible for the Justice Department to shape a witness-tampering prosecution.
But as any New York mobster knows, silent messages can be the most compelling, with the least legal liability, as long as the godfather’s significance is undeniable. We may never know what Trump intended to say to the commission’s witness. Maybe he thought the caller ID would be enough to say everything.