Did Trump Just Admit to Felony Witness Tampering?

My new Slate piece:

“On Saturday, the New York Times published a confidential letter that President Trump’s lawyers Jay Sekulow and John Dowd sent in January to special counsel Robert Mueller arguing that Mueller cannot subpoena the president. Most of the commentary so far has been about the letter’s assertion of extreme and unprecedented executive power. But buried in the letter is a bigger bombshell: an apparent admission that Trump obstructed justice…”

One digression in the piece I want to note: “It’s worth pausing on that point for a moment: President Trump persuaded his own son to lie and put himself in greater criminal jeopardy.” Happy Father’s Day.

One more point: The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent talked to me about the Trump lawyers’ letter today. Here’s our exchange, with a good point by Bob Bauer on a lingering question: Why did Trump’s lawyers made such a stunning unforced admission?

“Shugerman told me that this concession by Trump’s lawyers likely meant they had no choice — Mueller has established exactly what happened. They are conceding this point as part of an effort to justify not sitting for an interview — they’re claiming Trump already admits he dictated this statement, so Mueller doesn’t need to ask about it.

“The admission is so surprising that it suggests they may be trying to avoid a subpoena by basically conceding a key factual point,” Shugerman said. “They see a live interview with Mueller’s team as more dangerous than the damage from admitting that Trump dictated this statement.”

But as former White House counsel Bob Bauer added to me, their concession of Trump’s role in dictating the statement actually strengthens the rationale for insisting on further questioning. “This raises all sorts of questions as to why he did it,” Bauer told me. “What did you know at the time you wrote it? Who did you know it from? And why did you write something we now know wasn’t true? The moment that they concede that they lied about [Trump’s role], the argument for the interview is strengthened, not weakened.”

I agree that the lawyers’ letter only adds reasons for a court to rule in favor of prosecutors on whether they can subpoena and interview Trump.


Author: Jed Shugerman

Legal historian at Fordham Law School, teaching Torts, Administrative Law, and Constitutional History. JD/PhD in History, Yale. Red Sox and Celtics fan, youth soccer coach. Author of "The People's Courts: Pursuing Judicial Independence in America" (2012) on the rise of judicial elections in America. I filed an amicus brief in the Emoluments litigation against Trump along with a great team of historians. I'm working on "The Rise of the Prosecutor Politicians," a history of prosecutors and political ambition (a cause of mass incarceration), and "The Imaginary Unitary Executive," on the myths and history of presidential power in America.

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