And they probably also don’t count as “intimidation,” which courts define as “saying or doing something that would make a reasonable person feel threatened under the circumstances.”Mariotti told me that the typical “intimidation” case “is when a robber passes a bank teller a note saying ‘give me all your money.’” A tweet about an unrelated issue, even one issued by the President, would likely not meet that definition–although that may just be based on President Trump’s tweets to date. “I’ve taken a look at cases that have been prosecuted under this prong of § 1512 and all of them involve someone trying to convince a witness to lie or take the Fifth,” Mariotti says.

Skirting closest to the line is Trump’s tweet suggesting he taped his conversations with Comey.

”While Trump didn’t end up live-tweeting Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee as he’d promised, his son Don Jr.

did, disputing Comey’s account and interpretation of Trump’s actions. Alongside conduct like killing or using physical force against a witness, the section outlaws “knowingly” using intimidation, threatening a person, or corruptly persuading a person with the intent to influence, delay or prevent their testimony in an official proceeding, or to cause them to withhold their testimony.

“I don’t buy it–Comey is the former head of the FBI and spent his career in law enforcement.

In my nine years in law enforcement I faced much tougher threats than that tweet.

To prove such intent in the case of tweets like these, Mariotti says you would need specific communications: Trump writing to someone that he intended to tweet to damage their reputation, for example, so they didn’t talk about a specific subject, for example.“In the case of more obviously problematic communications that are typically prosecuted under § 1512, like meeting with a witness to convince him to lie, the defendant’s intent can be inferred from his or her own actions,” Mariotti says.

Finally, the testimony has to be in an “official proceeding.” As the U. Attorneys’ Manual notes, this differs from other obstruction offenses like § 1505, which require a proceeding.

Discussion of Donald Trump’s possible criminal wrongdoing since assuming the presidency has focused most intensely on classical obstruction of justice.

Those matters involve whether the president impeding investigations into Michael Flynn and Russian election interference, and are reportedly under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Trump’s tweets about potential witnesses are “imprudent,” former federal prosecutor and Professor Alex Whiting says.

I have no doubt that his lawyers have told him to lay off this kind of behavior, and if there were a judge involved in the case I am certain that he or she would admonish Trump about these kinds of statements, because there is indeed a risk that they could interfere with witnesses.

On top of the interest in his own interactions with Russians, Sessions is likely an important witness in the firing of Comey and in events surrounding Comey’s Valentine’s Day meeting with Trump, at which Comey says Trump pressured him to drop the Flynn investigation.