Aides close to Donald Trump have said that the U.S. president hardly ever prepares his speeches in full, depending much more on his "instinct" to carry him through. His former Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, who quit last month after the two didn't agree on the U.S. military role in the Middle East, said that Trump is very "impulsive" and could "lie" his way out of an interview. It might or might not be true, but during an interview on Fox News this week, Trump did something which might not be considered within the ambit of most politicians' media appearances.
It emerged this week that Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who has already made revelations damning to Trump, is set to testify before the House Oversight Committee next month. Discussing this development, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro asked Trump about his views in an interview broadcast on Saturday.
But instead of giving a straight answer -- as he did throughout the interview -- Trump attacked Michael Cohen's father-in-law. Unprompted as this was, Trump said that prosecutors were not talking about Cohen's father-in-law despite his history.
"[Cohen] should give information may be on his father-in-law, because that's the one that people want to look at," Trump said.
"Because where does that money — that's the money in the family. And I guess he didn't want to talk about his father-in-law – he's trying to get his sentence reduced. So it's pretty sad. It's weak and it's very sad to watch a thing like that."When asked who Michael Cohen's father was, Trump couldn't recall his name. His name is Fima Shusterman, according to Law and Crime, and he "loaned at least $20 million to a cab mogul mentioned in search warrants used by the FBI in raiding Cohen's home, office, and hotel room."
But Democrats on the House Oversight Committee contend that unprovoked name calling by Trump on national television before one of his former associates is to testify before Congress is a brazen attempt at "witness intimidation/tampering."
"Our nation's laws prohibit efforts to discourage, intimidate, or otherwise pressure a witness not to provide testimony to Congress. The President should make no statement or take any action to obstruct Congress' independent oversight and investigative efforts, including by seeking to discourage any witness from testifying in response to a duly authorized request from Congress," said a joint statement from the committee.
Professor Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a campaign finance law expert at Stetson University College of Law, said the committee is right to warn Trump because what the president did during the interview on Fox News could easily be construed as a means to intimidate Michael Cohen. Cohen is responsible for implicating Trump in at least two campaign finance violations when he revealed to prosecutors that Trump had directed him to make hush payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to buy their silence before the 2016 presidential elections.
"Given that Michael Cohen has already implicated the president in two campaign finance crimes, the president is likely nervous about what Mr. Cohen might testify about in front of Congress," Torres-Spelliscy said. "But that nervousness is no excuse for trying to intimidate a potential Congressional witness like Mr. Cohen."