Cheney points to Trump call, raising new witness tampering fears

Two weeks ago, as the Jan. 6 committee’s hearing with Cassidy Hutchinson neared its end, Rep. Liz Cheney introduced a new concern.

“Our committee commonly asks witnesses connected to Mr. Trump’s administration or campaign whether they’ve been contacted by any of their former colleagues or anyone else who attempted to influence or impact their testimony,” the Wyoming Republican explained. Evidently, some witnesses were, in fact, contacted by those interested in having an influence.

One went so far as to remind a witness that Donald Trump “reads transcripts,” and the former president and his team wanted him or her to “stay in good graces in Trump World.”

Yesterday, as the latest House select panel hearing wrapped up, Cheney broke some related news. NBC News reported:

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., revealed Tuesday during the Jan. 6 committee’s seventh hearing that former President Donald Trump called a witness in the probe after the previous hearing on June 28.

“After our last hearing, President Trump tried to call a witness in our investigation — a witness you have not yet seen in these hearings,” the GOP vice chair of the committee explained. “That person declined to answer or respond to President Trump’s call and instead alerted their lawyer to the call.

“Their lawyer alerted us, and this committee has supplied that information to the Department of Justice. Let me say one more time, we will take any effort to influence witness testimony very seriously.”

To be sure, the comments raised all kinds of questions — about the witness in question, when the call was made, what Trump intended to say, etc. — which do not yet have answers. That said, the concerns about possible witness tampering have not just reached a new level, they now appear to directly involve the former president.

Asked for comment, a spokesperson for Trump directed reporters to a tweet that read, “The media has become pawns of the Unselect Committee. Liz Cheney continues to traffic in innuendos and lies that go unchallenged, unconfirmed, but repeated as fact because the narrative is more important than the truth.”

It was a response that did not specifically deny the underlying allegation.

Let’s not forget that this is hardly the first time the former president has faced allegations like these. In 2019, as former U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch delivered sworn testimony in Trump’s first House impeachment inquiry, the then-president lashed out at her publicly as part of an apparent intimidation campaign.

At the time, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff told reporters that “we saw today witness intimidation in real time by the president of the United States, once again going after this dedicated and respected career public servant in an effort to not only chill her, but to chill others who may come forward.”

Several months earlier, during then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russia scandal, Trump faced related witness tampering allegations, including overtures to Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort, as well as efforts to intimidate Michael Cohen.

More recently, Trump started floating possible future pardons for those convicted of Jan. 6 crimes, prompting Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar, a member of the select committee, to say the Republican was “absolutely” tampering with the panel’s witnesses.

There’s also, of course, the fact that Trump World appears to have helped pay the legal fees of various Jan. 6 committee witnesses, which raise related questions.

Finally, it’s worth appreciating the degree to which this is a qualitatively different angle to the larger scandal. As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, most of what the House select committee has explored relates to events that unfolded in the aftermath of Trump’s defeat and the runup to Inauguration Day 2021.

Alleged witness tampering, in contrast, may have occurred far more recently. Indeed, it may be happening now.

While the Justice Department has taken a methodical approach to examining the events of Jan. 6, federal law enforcement can’t take its time with possible witness tampering — which is a felony — since it risks undermining an ongoing investigation. Watch this space.