So allegedly one of the witnesses scheduled to testify before the January 6 committee got a phone call from Trump’s number. The witness didn’t answer, notified their attorney, who notified the Justice Department.
Thing is, though this screams “witness tampering,” it also doesn’t. Just because it was Trump’s number doesn’t mean it was him. And even if it was, maybe he was calling to discuss something mundane.
Does the fact that he merely tried (and apparently failed) to make contact with a witness, despite the ambiguity of his intentions, make this (attempted) witness tampering?
I would point out that he didn’t fail to make contact. Even if the person never picked up the phone, Trump transmitted the information “I want to talk to you at a certain time.” Depending on their history and context, a ring-and-hang-up could be a deliberately contrived signal, or it could carry enough context for the person to know that it means pressure or coercion. It’s a message.
Intent is always the hard part to prove, but if they put Trump on the witness stand and asked him “why did you attempt to contact someone who is no longer anything to you except a potential source of damaging testimony”, he’d better have a very good reason.
Especially if the recipient of the call testified that there were earlier conversations that gave them good reason to suspect a tampering attempt - which, given that this person immediately contact their attorney, it seems like there’s a pretty good chance of it.
OK, follow-up Q: is there precedent for this in U.S. criminal courts? Has anyone ever been convicted of witness tampering for making a phone call that didn’t get answered?
*Lest anyone conclude I’m a Trump supporter who thinks the guy is being railroaded, nothing could be further from the truth. I want to see the guy burn as much as you do. I’m just genuinely shocked at how broadly this law can apparently be interpreted.
People are casually throwing around allegations of witness tampering, but I haven’t seen the DOJ actually take any action for this particular call. I have no doubt Trump wanted to intimidate and/or “convince” a witness to help him. But I am also quite sure a phone call that wasn’t answered is not sufficient for a conviction. A witness who would resist intimidation should answer the phone and ask him why he’s calling (and if legal, record the call). I think it was entirely proper for this witness to report the attempted call, but I doubt it will go anywhere in the criminal courts.
Except that the committee already has examples of Trump calling some witnesses who did pick up the phone, or at least listened to a voicemail, and it was all “Hey, you know, we know you’re a team player who will “do the right thing” when you testify.”
Trump is a mafia boss. He doesn’t directly threaten; he implies. “You know that military aid you need to stave off a Russian attack? That might not be coming. Now, if you could dig up some dirt on my political rival’s kid, that aid might come to you.” He doesn’t even need to be that specific.
The comments that have been reported at the end of the committee hearings sure sound a hell of a lot like witness tampering. The smartest thing that Hutchison did was get her own attorney. Her Trump-appointed attorney might have someone else’ best interest in mind rather than hers.
Yes, but even though we all know what was happening here, I don’t think a judge (even one who hates Trump) would let this allegation go to a jury.
Juries are not permitted to convict a defendant based on speculation or mere suspicion.
While the jury may draw reasonable inferences from direct or circumstantial evidence, an inference must be more than speculation and conjecture to be reasonable, and caution must be taken that the conviction not be obtained by piling inference on inference… A jury will not be allowed to engage in a degree of speculation and conjecture that renders its finding a guess or mere possibility. Such [an inference] is infirm because it is not based on the evidence.
United States v. Jones, 44 F.3d 860, 865 (10th Cir.1995)
United States v. Michel, 446 F.3d 1122, 1127 (10th Cir. 2006)
Bear in mind here… you asked the question “was this witness tampering.” Attempted tampering counts as witness tampering under the statute, and the caller in this case was contacting a witness in proceedings of which he was a subject.
So in the realm of common sense, of course it was witness tampering. But as an actionable offense, would the DOJ feel like they had enough to prosecute? Is that a good use of anyone’s time? I would say probably they wouldn’t bother unless the person had answered the call and documented what was said.
But the fact that the offense isn’t seen as a slam-dunk criminal conviction doesn’t mean that no crime occurred.
Yes, caller ID can be spoofed. But it’s trivial for the local cops or any higher law enforcement agency or courts to get the real phone system records. Which knows which phones really made which calls to which other phones. That stuff is not spoofable.
As well, I could spoof DT’s number. If I knew it. It’s hardly classified, but it’s also not common knowledge. If there was spoofing, whoever did it had to know the number and was therefore pretty close to the center of this stuff.
You or I may be guessing. The people to whom it matters are not.
Given that Trump’s stooges have attempted witness tampering before, and given that it was once again Trump or one of his stooges, and given the previously demonstrated ethics of said actors, the answer is “yes”.