Harvard law professor and ardent Donald Trump critic Laurence Tribe says the president may have violated federal law by tweeting a warning about secret tapes of fired FBI director James Comey.
“It could readily be viewed, as Trump himself has conceded, as an effort to influence the ‘due administration of justice,’ defined under 18 USC sec. 1503 as criminal obstruction of justice,” Tribe told TheWrap in an email.
18 USC 1503 is a federal criminal law that makes it a crime to try to interfere with an official government investigation. Tribe also tweeted on Thursday that Trump’s tapes threat may be illegal.
“Trump’s failed bluff ‘endeavored to impede the due administration of justice’ in criminal violation of 18 USC 1503,” Tribe tweeted.
Tribe’s tweet linked to a Washington Post opinion piece titled, “Trump’s bluff is called, revealing another self-inflicted legal wound.” The piece explores whether Trump may have violated criminal federal obstruction-of-justice laws.
Violating the federal obstruction of justice law carries a maximum prison term of 20 years, according to the Post.
Tribe was referring to Trump’s May 12 tweet, which said, “James B. Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
Trump’s tweet came three days after he fired Comey.
Comey subsequently leaked to the New York Times the contents of a memo he had prepared that detailed his meetings with Trump. The paper reported on May 16 that Comey took detailed notes of his meetings with Trump.
During those meetings, Trump demanded Comey’s “loyalty” and asked if Comey would halt the federal investigation of Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor, according to the Comey memo.
During his testimony before Congress, Comey said, “I’ve seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” he said.
But Trump tweeted on Thursday that he has no tapes, although his carefully worded language leaves the door open that tapes might exist.
“With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea…,” Trump said in a two-part tweet.
…whether there are “tapes” or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings,” Trump said in the second part of his tweet.
18 USC 1503 states that anyone who “knowingly uses intimidation, threatens, or corruptly persuades another person, or attempts to do so, or engages in misleading conduct toward another person, with intent to influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding” has violated the federal law.
Another section of the federal statute prohibits sending a “threatening letter or communication” that “endeavors to influence … the due administration of justice.”
Trump seemed to admit in his interview with “Fox & Friends” that his tweet about tapes of Comey was intended to influence Comey’s congressional testimony.
“I’ve been reading about it for the last couple of months about the seriousness of the horribleness of the situation with surveillance all over the place,” the president said during his interview. “So you never know what’s out there, but I didn’t tape, and I don’t have any tape and I didn’t tape.”
When the Fox host asked whether Trump hinted at tapes to ensure Mr. Comey “stayed honest in those hearings,” Mr. Trump responded, “Well, it wasn’t very stupid, I can tell you that.”
Trump also dismissed accusations that his campaign had colluded with Russia to influence the election.
“There’s been no collusion, no obstruction, and virtually everybody agrees to that,” he said.