Did Trump Just Admit to Intimidating a Witness Over Comey Tapes Threat?

Trump
President Donald Trump delivers remarks at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on June 21. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

President Donald Trump has repeatedly called for the Russian investigation to go away, yet he appears unable to stop talking about it. And by doing so, say legal experts, he is putting himself in jeopardy over a possible obstruction of justice charge.

Related: Watch Trump explain why he sent Comey tapes tweet and see if you understand. (We don't)

Trump's latest comments came Friday when attempting to explain why he sent a tweet threatening that he had tapes of his conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey. On Thursday, Trump had admitted that no such tapes, at least to his knowledge, existed.

After Fox News host Ainsley Earhardt suggested that sending the tweet was a smart way of making Comey "stay honest" during his Senate testimony earlier this month, Trump responded, "Well, it wasn't very stupid, I can tell you that."

He added: "He did admit that what I said was right, and if you look further back before he heard about that I think maybe he wasn't admitting that."

Yet, according to former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg, that comment was less than smart.

"It's not the kind of comment, if you're his lawyer, you want him to make," Zeidenberg told Newsweek Friday. "He's trying to affect the testimony of a witness, which you're not supposed to do."

Indeed, it could well be seen, as former Barack Obama White House ethics czar Norm Eisen has said, as an attempt to intimidate a witness. That would be yet another component of obstruction of justice, which Trump has said he is being investigated for but which his lawyers have denied.

The thing that may save Trump is his claim that he did so in order to keep Comey honest. In establishing obstruction of justice it is necessary to prove that corrupt intent was present. But even with that caveat, Trump's latest remarks about the matter hardly help his attempts to show that he did not try to interfere in the FBI's investigation into possible collusion between Russia and his campaign.

"You're basically conceding all the elements of the offense except for intent," Zeidenberg said. "So why would you do that? To say that it's not fatal isn't the same as saying it's at all helpful or constructive. He's putting himself in all kinds of jeopardy for no good reason."

Yahoo! News reported earlier this month that several top law firms had rejected the opportunity to represent Trump over fears that he would refuse their advice about not making public statements. Still, Trump has continued to comment and tweet incessantly.

"If you're his attorney, you're pulling your hair out," Zeidenberg said. "As a lawyer, I think this is just incredibly self-destructive."

In concert, Trump's mountain of comments could suggest that he was fixated by the Russia investigation. He is also making the job of the investigators, led by special counsel Robert Mueller, easier.

"There's a reason why defense lawyers tell their clients don't comment, Zeidenberg said. "Anytime he tweets, anytime he comments, he's providing information and possibly evidence to the investigators."

Perhaps the only way Trump's actions could be interpreted as something less than "very stupid" would be if he is playing the political rather than the legal game; throwing bones to his base and his friends at Fox. For Trump, the threat of obstruction of justice is impeachment and that, ultimately, will be a political decision reliant, currently at least, on a Republican House and Senate.

Did Trump Just Admit to Intimidating a Witness Over Comey Tapes Threat? | U.S.