(AP)

Ex-White House ethics lawyer: Trump helping his son draft a misleading statement could be witness tampering

Richard Painter tells Salon that Trump may have exposed himself to legal problems by trying to help his son


Taylor Link
August 1, 2017 6:37PM (UTC)

Former chief White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter says President Donald Trump may be in legal jeopardy for his role in drafting a misleading statement on behalf of his son.

The problems stem from a statement released by Donald Trump Jr. which claimed that a shady meeting between he and a Russian attorney was “primarily [focused on] a program about the adoption of Russian children.” The statement turned out to be untrue. On Monday The Washington Post reported that it was the president himself who helped craft that statement.

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Now lawyers and members of the press are speculating what this means for the president's legal woes. Painter told Salon that Trump's involvement with the misleading statement only compounded his problems.

"The biggest exposure is obstruction of justice," Painter wrote in an email. "He is already in hot water for that because of the [James] Comey firing and his admission that it was about Russia."

While Painter acknowledged that lying to the public was not necessarily a criminal offense, he said Trump's intention in writing the statement could trigger criminal charges.

"A misleading statement — even a lie — told to the press or to the public is not itself a crime," Painter said, "but he must have known that his son and others would be called to give evidence in the criminal proceeding. Once he drafts a public statement that he knows is false, he is boxing them in when they talk to [Robert] Mueller, testify before Congress and at trial, or at least he is attempting to do so. That is obstruction of justice, witness tampering."

Painter explained that if an individual encourages somebody else to make a false statement to investigators, he or she would be engaging in obstruction of justice and witness tampering.

In this case, the president would have constrained what Trump Jr. could tell investigators by having him lie at the outset about the purpose of the meeting.

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"Encouraging him to make false statements to the press and the public is also obstruction of justice/witness tampering if the intent is to box him into a particular false story that he will then repeat to investigators," he wrote.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has given the Senate Judiciary Committee the go-ahead to interview Trump Jr. It has been reported that Trump has already inquired about his pardoning powers.

Taylor Link

Taylor Link is an assistant editor at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @taylorlink_

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