“It all started with a stupid tweet.” How many stories of our President start this way now? Or with other words instead of “stupid”, such as petty, hateful and dishonest. I have previously suggested the Twilight Zone like surrealism that would be created if for just one early morning Trump was magically compelled to tweet honestly.
Out of the blue yesterday he struck with one of his most atrocious and condemned tweets to date against MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. While some declared it a new low for the President, I couldn’t quite put it even in the Top 5 of worst tweets as President that I started compiling today (maybe that will be published later). Just review the tandem tweets with their petty and spiteful message from the putative leader of the free world.
The tweets were widely condemned by Republicans and Democrats alike. The tweets (like so many of Trump’s) were also untrue. But the real story I want to talk about started the next day.
Today The Morning Joe Empire struck back with Joe and Mika writing an OpEd in the Washington Post. If it is true it should shock the conscience of Americans. They claimed that the President of the United States threatened them with a negative expose in The National Enquirer (of all things) unless Joe called the President and apologized for their coverage of him. Basically they claim to have been told “grovel to the President and it will go away.” Further explaining things on their show this morning Scarborough said:
We got a call that, ‘Hey, the National Enquirer is going to run a negative story against you guys…” And they said, “If you call the president up, and you apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike this story . . . The calls kept coming and kept coming, and they were like “Call. You need to call. Please call. Come on, Joe. Just pick up the phone and call him.”
While Scarborough did not name names he described the calls as coming from “three people at the very top of the administration.”
In true form, the President quickly took to Twitter to deny the allegation made on the show he doesn’t watch.
Representatives of the The National Enquirer also denied the claim, which also falls in the “for what’s worth department.”
However, Scarborough struck back, responding to Trump’s tweet stating he had proof in the form of texts and phone records.
It is also well known that Trump and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker (yes, that really is his name) are friends. The Enquirer has previously attacked enemies of Trump running false hit pieces labeling Ted Cruz as a philanderer and absurdly accusing his father of being involved in the JFK assassination.
Earlier this month The National Enquirer did in fact run a lurid hit piece against Mika and Joe, who are now engaged, regarding their prior marriages and relationship. So various pieces are there to support their story. It will be interesting to see if Joe reveals those texts and phone records.
I don’t know if the allegations made by the Morning Joe hosts are true. However, if they are, there are some criminal statutes I think should be given some consideration regarding the President’s alleged conduct.
I would direct attention to 18 USC 872 regarding extortion committed by public officials:
“Whoever, being an officer, or employee of the United States or any department or agency thereof, or representing himself to be or assuming to act as such, under color or pretense of office or employment commits or attempts an act of extortion, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both; but if the amount so extorted or demanded does not exceed $1,000, he shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”
I think this statute problematical because the definitions of extortion in the Federal statute require the threat be against money or property. However, there two more to consider.
I also direct attention to 18 USC 875(d).
“Whoever, with intent to extort from any person, firm, association, or corporation, any money or other thing of value, transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to injure the property or reputation of the addressee or of another or the reputation of a deceased person or any threat to accuse the addressee or any other person of a crime, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”
I don’t know if Trump’s demand for an apology would qualify as an “other thing of value” under this statute, except to state the obvious that if the allegations are true Trump seemed to value it. Edit and update: A reader advises me that the 11th Circuit recently ruled a “thing of value” for purposes of this specific statute is “anything that has value to the Defendant, whether it’s tangible or not.” The Court of Appeals states that should be the instructions to a jury hearing a case on this statute. Thus, since Trump viewed the apology as a “thing of value,” it is a thing of value.
This statute’s potential applicability is also rooted in its inclusion of a “any threat to injure reputation.”
Finally, I switch to the statute for “Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law.” 18 USC 242.
“Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”
Free speech is a right secured by the Constitution. In terms of what constitutes “under the color of law” per the DOJ website on the matter:
“For the purpose of Section 242, acts under “color of law” include acts not only done by federal, state, or local officials within the their lawful authority, but also acts done beyond the bounds of that official’s lawful authority, if the acts are done while the official is purporting to or pretending to act in the performance of his/her official duties.”
If Trump directed people at the top of his administration to communicate this threat that would be acting with the power of his office in a manner arguably sufficient to satisfy the “under color of law” element of this offense.
Just something to think about. Trump has already stuck his toe into the felony pool regarding obstruction of justice. He just have gotten in to his knees.