President Donald Trump on Friday initially appeared to confirm by tweet he is under investigation for possible obstruction of justice — the latest example that he risks undermining his own case.
The president seemed to validate an anonymously sourced Washington Post story indicating that special counsel Robert Mueller was looking into obstruction based on Trump’s dismissal of FBI Director James Comey, whose agency at the time was running a counterintelligence investigation of Russian meddling into the 2016 election — although not of Trump himself.
Trump referred to a memo prepared by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as part of the review of Comey. Rosenstein also is the man who appointed Mueller as special counsel.
“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt,” Trump tweeted.
Experts, including some friendly to the president, argue that tweeting about the case hurts on two counts — legally and politically.
“In theory, at least, that’s evidence,” said Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston.
In tweeting about Rosenstein’s appointment of Mueller, he’s throwing under the bus his No. 2 guy,” Blackman said, adding, “Will all this matter? Ultimately, I don’t think it will matter because this is not going to go to court. But he’s complicating his lawyer’s case.”
Blackman said there are some parallels to the legal fight over Trump executive orders that temporarily banning travelers from certain terrorism-compromised countries. Judges in those cases have cited Trump’s statements, including his tweets.
“Being brutally honest, you sabotage your own case.”
Blackman said Trump blew apart Justice Department lawyers’ carefully crafted defense by calling it a “travel ban” in a tweet. That practice can hurt Trump in other contexts.
“Being brutally honest, you sabotage your own case,” he said.
Dale Wilcox, a lawyer who supports the travel ban, said he believes it is improper for judges to consider campaign statements. But he said tweets since Jan. 20 are part of the official record.
“We believe statements the president makes after he takes office can be used against him,” he said.
Wilcox, who serves as executive director and general counsel of the Immigration Reform Law Institute, suggested that Trump would be better off keeping quiet about the probe.
“Myself as a lawyer, I would advise my clients to let us be the mouthpiece,” he said. “You can only hurt your case.”
Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, said Friday on “The Laura Ingraham Show” that it was reasonable for the president to remind Americans about the basis of the supposed obstruction — Comey’s dismissal. It came after Rosenstein detailed the director’s violations of Justice Department policies during the agency’s investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information.
“He was very specific in the letter. I mean, it’s a very detailed letter,” he said. “So this is, this should be rather unremarkable.”
Certainly, Democrats are aggressively using Trump’s tweets against him to prosecute a political case.
“He just tweets at random in contradictory ways,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) told CNN. “This is not what we want from the president.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democratic on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Friday that she is concerned Trump will fire Rosenstein in an effort to get rid of Mueller.
“The message the president is sending through his tweets is that he believes the rule of law doesn’t apply to him and that anyone who thinks otherwise will be fired,” she stated. “That’s undemocratic on its face and a blatant violation of the president’s oath of office.”
Beyond complicating his legal problems, Trump also feeds the frenzy every time he shines a light on the investigation instead of his agenda.
“It’s terrible,” Blackman said. “It’s bad.”