The Democratic chairmen of the House Committees on Oversight and Reform, Intelligence, and the Judiciary today issued a joint statement warning President Trump against any “efforts to discourage, intimidate, or otherwise pressure a witness not to provide testimony to Congress” following Trump comments about his former fixer and lawyer, Michael Cohen, who is scheduled to testify before the Oversight committee in February. Cohen is appearing voluntarily to testify, saying, according to NBC News, “I look forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired.”
Last night on Fox News Trump made comments about Cohen’s father-in-law, speaking vaguely, attempting to implicate the father-in-law in non-specific crimes, saying to host Jeanine Pirro, according to NBC News, that Cohen “should give information maybe on his father-in-law, because that’s the one that people want to look at…Because where does that money — that’s the money in the family. And I guess he didn’t want to talk about his father — he’s trying to get his sentence reduced. So, it’s pretty sad. You know, it’s weak and it’s very sad to watch a thing like that. I couldn’t care less.” One could look at this rambling comment as an attempt by Trump to deflect attention away from himself, but of course Congress would be more interested in what Cohen has to say about Trump than about his father-in-law. Trump could be trying to make Cohen concerned that additional crimes, either his own or those of other members of his family, for which he and they have not yet been charged, could come to light if he testifies before Congress, which indeed could be looked at as an effort by Trump at intimidation, to discourage Cohen from testifying.
The warning statement, titled “House Chairmen Issue Warning After President’s Statements on Cohen Testimony”, was issued today by Representative Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the Chairmen of the House Committees on Oversight and Reform, Intelligence, and the Judiciary, respectively. The statement, as posted on the House Judiciary committee’s website, was:
Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Rep. Adam Schiff, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the Chairmen of the House Committees on Oversight and Reform, Intelligence, and the Judiciary, issued the following statement in response to President Donald Trump’s comments last night on Fox News regarding Michael Cohen’s testimony before Congress: “The integrity of our process to serve as an independent check on the Executive Branch must be respected by everyone, including the President. Our nation’s laws prohibit efforts to discourage, intimidate, or otherwise pressure a witness not to provide testimony to Congress. The President should make no statement or take any action to obstruct Congress’ independent oversight and investigative efforts, including by seeking to discourage any witness from testifying in response to a duly authorized request from Congress.”
Trump made similar comments about Cohen on Twitter in December, but the difference then was that at that time both houses of Congress still had Republican majorities and Republicans in Congress have not in general been willing to hold Trump to account for his rhetoric or behavior. Democrats are putting Trump on notice that they, however, will hold Trump to account.
Having a president who needs to be reminded not to discourage, pressure, or intimidate witnesses is certainly extraordinary, but so much of President Trump’s behavior has been outside the bounds that perhaps this extraordinary development seems almost ordinary against the backdrop of the near daily scandals and lies of Donald Trump. Trump may have no standards for his own behavior, but it is important that Congress, and society, maintain standards for the behavior expected of a president. Respecting the judicial process, including by leaving witnesses alone, is one of those expectations.