The potential clash between President Donald Trump’s attacks on a potential witness in the Russia investigation and court-imposed gag orders has put the White House in a difficult position.
Trump in recent days has escalated his criticism of Michael Cohen, the former lawyer and business associate whose information has become relevant to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference. Trump has called Cohen weak and a liar, and sought to discredit his credibility ahead of any testimony Cohen may provide related to the probe.
The problem, experts say, is that it could be seen as an effort to interfere in the special counsel’s investigation, potentially violating court orders designed to preserve the secrecy of Mueller’s probe as he conducts his investigation.
Gag orders, often issued by federal judges overseeing the lawsuits and investigations used in Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, prevent people involved in the cases from publicly discussing them or providing information to the press. Violating such a gag order could result in sanctions against the person or entity violating the order, including possible jail time.
The White House has not commented on whether Trump was aware of the gag orders when he attacked Cohen. But the White House has maintained that nothing Trump has said publicly could be seen as interference, despite the fact that Trump has made his views publicly clear.
That could be an effort to protect Trump himself from any potential legal repercussions from the gag orders. The White House has also pointed to Trump’s right to express himself on Twitter, although that right could be limited by the gag orders.
At the same time, Trump’s attacks on Cohen could be seen as a sign of his own growing anxiety about the special counsel’s investigation. Trump has consistently sought to discredit the probe and discredit those involved, even some of his closest associates. And the increasingly personal nature of his attacks on Cohen could suggest his concern about the potential consequences the investigation could carry for himself and his associates.