Legal experts are baffled after Trump’s lawyer John Dowd claimed Sunday that he wrote a tweet on the president’s account that seems to incriminate the commander in chief.
The tweet, posted Saturday, reads:
I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2017
The message suggests Trump knew his national security adviser Michael Flynn lied to the FBI when the U.S. president allegedly pressured the then–FBI Director James Comey to abandon the investigation into Flynn in a private meeting, a day after Trump fired Flynn.
Comey described the meeting from detailed memos he took at the time in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee ahead of his testimony in June.
“This is a pretty substantial confession to essential knowledge elements of an obstruction of justice charge,” wrote Susan Hennessey, a national security attorney and fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank in response to Trump’s tweet Saturday.
On Sunday, Trump’s lawyer Dowd took the blame for the ham-fisted tweet. “The tweet did not admit obstruction. That is an ignorant and arrogant assertion,” he told Axios, calling the tweet “my mistake.”
Dowd has sought to defend the tweet, claiming Monday that the “president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer” under the Constitution.
Dowd told CNN that he drafted the tweet and that he believes Dan Scavino Jr., the White House social media director, posted it. He would not answer questions about whether Trump reviewed the message.
Dowd’s admission left a number of legal experts incredulous that the former Department of Justice attorney, who once defended a former Air Force officer during the Iran-Contra affair, would make such a rookie mistake.
“Dowd’s explanation to CNN makes no sense. He claims he wrote the tweet claiming Flynn was fired partly for lying to the FBI, but he also rejects the idea that POTUS knew Flynn had lied. Why would you write the tweet then, Dowd? Or did you?” wrote attorney Walter Shaub, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, who left the Trump administration in frustration early this year.
Dowd acknowledged the tweet was sloppy and told Reuters that he “should have put the lying to the FBI in a separate line referencing his plea.”
“The point of that tweet was entirely correct. It’s just very sad. I don’t know why the guy lied. He didn’t need to,” Dowd told Axios.
“An experienced criminal defense attorney like Dowd would know that it’s proper to say that Flynn ‘pleaded guilty,’ not ‘pled guilty,’” wrote attorney Renato Mariotti, a Democratic candidate for Illinois attorney general, in an analysis of Trump’s tweet.
Pleaded is “the traditional past-tense form” that lawyers use when describing a plea, tweeted Bryan A. Garner, the editor in chief of Black’s Law Dictionary. The implication is that such an experienced lawyer would never compose the tweet.
Dowd and Trump’s legal team should release the “email chain, texts or other proof Dowd sent the draft tweet, and explaining the Trumpian tone and characteristic errors (‘pled’ instead of ‘pleaded’),” tweeted attorney Norm Eisen, who chairs the board of the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Some Republican senators warned Trump about continuing to put out messages about the Russia investigation, which is examining whether his campaign worked with Russia to hurt his rival Hillary Clinton.
“I would just say this with the president: There’s an ongoing criminal investigation,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on the CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “You tweet and comment regarding ongoing criminal investigations at your own peril.”
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