U.S. President Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general said that if the president were to coach someone to falsely testify, that would be a crime.
Those are the words William Barr used during his confirmation hearing Tuesday when asked by senators what he considers obstruction of justice.
On Thursday evening, Buzzfeed released a report saying Trump told his former lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build Trump Tower in Moscow. Buzzfeed cited two unnamed law enforcement officials who were probing the situation.
The report said Trump instructed Cohen to tell Congress that negotiations with Russia ended months earlier than they actually did in order to hide his involvement.
Buzzfeed said it reached out to the White House and Cohen for comment but did not hear back.
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Coaching someone to lie under oath is called subornation of perjury, and according to Trump’s own attorney general pick, that is obstruction of justice. The penalty for this can range from a fine to up to 10 years in prison.
During Barr’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham asked: “If there was some reason to believe that the president tried to coach somebody not to testify or testify falsely, that could be obstruction of justice?”
“Yes. Under an obstruction statute, yes,” Barr replied.
He was also asked the same question by Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
“You wrote on page one that a president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction, is that right?”
“Yes, any person,” Barr said.
“You also said that a president or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction, is that right?”
“Yes,” he said.
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In a memo Barr wrote to the Justice Department in June 2018, he explained what would constitute obstruction of justice and said the president could be guilty of this, too.
“Obviously, the president and any other official can commit obstruction in this classic sense of sabotaging a proceeding’s truth-finding function. Thus, for example, if a president knowingly destroys or alters evidence, suborns perjury or induces a witness to change testimony or commits any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence, then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction.”
Although Trump did no comment on the Buzzfeed article, he did take to Twitter on Friday, citing Fox News reporter Kevin Corke and saying that Cohen is lying to reduce his jail time.