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Trump attacks Michael Cohen and praises Roger Stone in anti-Mueller tweets

His posts invite some legal questions about witness tampering.

President And Mrs. Trump Depart The White House For G20 Summit In Argentina
President Donald Trump departs Washington for the G20 in Argentina on November 29, 2018.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

President Donald Trump stepped up his attacks against special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation Monday, tweeting against one cooperating witness, while praising the “guts” of another potential witness who hasn’t cooperated with the probe.

Days after Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen struck a plea deal with Mueller in which he admitted to lying to Congress about a Trump Tower Moscow project, the president blasted Cohen’s honesty, accusing him of doing “TERRIBLE” things and hinting at wrongdoing involving his family. He also said Cohen should serve a full prison sentence.

Not even half an hour later, the president then tweeted praise of Roger Stone, his longtime adviser who’s been in Mueller’s crosshairs in recent months. Stone said on television this weekend that he would not testify against Trump. “Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts,’” the president tweeted.

And in one more tweet, the president accused Mueller and his team of not wanting the truth, writing, “they only want lies.” Through it all, Trump is trying to establish the narrative that Mueller is getting cooperating witnesses to fabricate testimony against him — and that those who don’t cooperate are simply refusing to “make up lies and stories.”

Trump decides Cohen should face a long prison sentence

Last Thursday, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a planned project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. That plea revealed Cohen’s cooperation with the special counsel for the first time, after Cohen had pleaded guilty to separate federal charges in Manhattan in August.

Trump had already called Cohen a “weak person” after news of the new plea deal broke. But on Twitter Monday, the president objected to Cohen’s lawyers requesting leniency in his sentencing based on his cooperation with multiple federal investigations. Trump claimed that, since Cohen was a liar, in his opinion, he should serve a “full and complete sentence.”

“You mean he can do all the TERRIBLE, unrelated to Trump, things having to do with fraud, big loans, Taxis, etc., and not serve a long prison term?” Trump tweeted.

Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal charges in the Southern District of New York in August. Six of those charges related to Cohen personally, including tax evasion related to his taxi business.

But the other two charges Cohen pleaded guilty to in that deal — campaign finance violations related to Cohen’s hush money payments to Playboy model Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels — were very much related to Trump. Cohen admitted that he made those payments “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.”

Trump said that Cohen, in talking to prosecutors, was trying to protect his own family from unspecified criminal exposure. “He makes up stories to get a GREAT & ALREADY reduced deal for himself, and get..... his wife and father-in-law (who has the money??) off Scott Free [sic],” he tweeted.

In the new plea deal with Mueller, Cohen admitted that his efforts on the Trump Tower Moscow project continued well into the presidential campaign, and that he had gotten into contact with Russian government officials about the deal. Cohen also confirmed that he briefed members of the Trump family about the project, and said he briefed Trump personally more often than he had previously admitted.

It is unclear what, specifically, Trump is saying is untrue among these admissions by Cohen.

Trump defends Roger Stone, whose fate in the Mueller probe is still outstanding

If Cohen is a disloyal liar, Trump has now decided to make his foil the political trickster Roger Stone.

Stone has been complaining about Mueller coming after him for some time, as the special counsel has focused on his associates, including Jerome Corsi, and their activities during the 2016 election — specifically about whether Stone had inside information about stolen emails that Russian intelligence officers allegedly hacked from top Democrats, then gave to WikiLeaks.

In an appearance on ABC News this weekend, Stone insisted he had nothing on Trump. “There’s no circumstance under which I would testify against the president, because I’d have to bear false witness against him. I’d have to make things up and I’m not going to do that,” he claimed.

So now Trump, in his tweet, praised Stone for “essentially stating that he will not be forced to make up lies about ‘President Trump’” by “a rogue and out of control prosecutor.” He continued: “Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts.’”

Here, the president may well be signaling to Stone — and anyone else involved in the investigation — to resist the special counsel. Some legal experts argued this could potentially constitute witness tampering. But the glaring contrast with his tweets about Cohen, sent less than half an hour earlier, is obvious.

Trump’s finale (for now): Another attempt to discredit Mueller

Finally, Trump went after Mueller directly, claiming in a tweet that he and his team “don’t want the truth, they only want lies.”

This fits with the narrative the president has been trying to establish that anyone who flips against him must be fabricating lies at the behest of a “rogue prosecutor.”

But though Trump’s attacks on the special counsel “witch hunt” aren’t new, these latest tweets signal that the president feels the need to push back harder against Mueller as his investigation appears to have intensified.

Just before Thanksgiving, the president turned in his written answers to some of Mueller’s questions about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump, if he lied in any of his responses, might be in legal jeopardy himself. Discrediting the Mueller investigation, and anyone that works with it, as dishonest, could be his chosen defense strategy.

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