Let’s not bother looking up the federal statute on witness tampering. Trump could have tweeted “Watch me intimidate this loser witness” this morning before tweeting about Yovanovitch and it wouldn’t change anything. Lindsey Graham would be on Fox News within the hour arguing that the president’s too incompetent to form the requisite intent to commit that crime.
Besides, there’s no threat in what Trump said. The argument would be that intimidation is inherent when an employee is denigrated by her boss while she’s busy testifying against his interests, but Trump’s not getting removed by the Senate for it. (Or for anything else.)
It’s a dumb tweet on the merits. A Twitter pal correctly pointed out that you don’t send the bumbling diplomats to hot zones like Somalia or Ukraine. You save those positions for people who know what they’re doing; the bumblers get shipped off to places where there’s no trouble and they can’t do any harm.
But witness intimidation?
— POLITICO (@politico) November 15, 2019
Some Republicans like Jim Jordan made the point afterward that Yovanovitch didn’t know Trump was attacking her until Schiff told her. He enabled the intimidation! Right, but watch the clip again. Schiff’s point is that watching Trump go off on Yovanovitch will discourage “other witnesses” from coming forward. The president’s making an example of her to let anyone else who might consider testifying know what they’re in for. That’s not a hypothetical either: David Holmes, the Bill Taylor aide who allegedly overheard Trump’s call with Gordon Sondland in July, is set to be deposed this afternoon.
The problem with zeroing in on Trump’s tweet as intimidating is that there are eight million or so other well-known examples of him being vindictive towards his political enemies and seeking to punish them. He fired Comey, reportedly tried to fire Mueller, and just this week was alleged to be considering firing the intelligence IG who sent the whistleblower’s complaint to Congress. He spent the better part of a year and a half berating his own Attorney General on social media. He called Michael Cohen a “rat” for cooperating with federal prosecutors. He’s campaigned against the few right-wing members of Congress, like Mark Sanford, who’ve dared to criticize him. His own daughter is reportedly begging him not to tweet out the name of the whistleblower knowing that the guy will be inundated with even more death threats than he’s doubtless already receiving, and while Trump’s managed to refrain from doing that for now, his aides seem to believe it’s a matter of time before he gives in to temptation.
He’s a vengeful person, eager to retaliate against those who cross him. Which witness or potential witness in government who’s observed him for even five minutes since he was sworn in was unclear about that until he tweeted this morning about Yovanovitch, at which point they suddenly felt intimidated?
Saying that he’s not going to be impeached for witness intimidation, though, is not to say that it wasn’t idiotic of him to attack Yovanovitch when she’s about to testify that Trump and Giuliani had some sort of vendetta against her. House Republicans had to inch away from him after the hearing broke for lunch:
“I disagree with the tweet. I think Ambassador Yovanovitch is a public servant, like many of our public servants in the foreign service,” GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik says to @byrdinator of Trump tweet this AM going after Yovanovitch
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) November 15, 2019
Yovanovitch “clearly is somebody who’s been a public servant to the United States for decades and I don’t think the president should have done that,” Liz Cheney added about Trump’s tweet. Even the president’s favorite network seemed underwhelmed:
Wow. Fox News’ Bret Baier says that Trump’s tweets attacking Yovanovitch could be construed as witness intimidation and hence “adding essentially an article of impeachment in real time as this hearing is going on.” pic.twitter.com/7IiDQ1xriP
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 15, 2019
Baier’s not wrong when he says that Democrats essentially added a new article of impeachment “in real time.” Eric Swalwell told reporters during the break that witness intimidation will now be added to any charges related to obstruction of justice. Steny Hoyer, the majority leader, is tweeting about witness intimidation this afternoon. It’s probably the only detail that’ll be remembered from this Yovanovitch hearing, which was otherwise destined to involve a lot of testimony about infighting with “shadow diplomats” like Giuliani. Might as well toss it on the pile of stuff to be quickly dumped in the trash by the Senate.