WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s tweet on Wednesday calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the Russia investigation raises difficult questions about whether Trump’s frequent use of Twitter might be used to build a case of obstruction of justice against him.
The latest round of presidential tweets bashing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation fueled criticism that Trump is illegally interfering with the investigation. Just as quickly, the White House defended the tweets as expressing Trump’s opinion.
Amid a series of morning tweets, Trump wrote , “This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!”
Mueller already is interested in some of Trump’s tweets to the extent they raise obstruction of justice concerns.
In obstruction cases, prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a particular act got in the way of an investigation and that the person who did it intended to obstruct.
The difficulty in trying to use Trump’s tweet to prove obstruction is that he may have posted it for several reasons, including to rally support among his political base, said Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor in New York who now lectures at Columbia Law School. In addition, Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, and Trump certainly knows that, having previously complained about it publicly, Rodgers said.
“If there are other credible reasons for doing something, you’ve kind of lost the beyond a reasonable doubt,” Rodgers said.
But statements like the one Trump made Wednesday could help round out an obstruction case that might be focused on an earlier act, like the firing of FBI Director James Comey, she said.
Rodgers was among several lawyers who said there is no reason a tweet could not be considered evidence — taking issue with comments from Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani that scoffed at the idea of “obstruction by tweet.”
“I don’t know why Rudy seemed to think that obstruction by tweet is a crazy notion,” Rodgers said. Postings from Facebook and other social media are used in criminal cases, Rodgers said. “There are no separate rules of evidence for obstruction cases,” she said.