Trump praises witness who refuses to testify against him

(AP) — President Donald Trump praised a key witness in the Russia investigation Monday for having the “guts” not to testify against him, and said his former lawyer — who cut a deal with prosecutors — should head straight to prison.

In a pair of politically charged tweets, Trump made clear that he is closely watching those who turn on him in the special counsel’s probe, which has ensnared some of the president’s closest advisers. So far, five people in Trump’s orbit have pleaded guilty to federal charges.

The tweets add to mounting questions about whether Trump is taking steps to improperly influence witnesses in an investigation that has enraged him and shadowed his administration. Some legal experts, though, say they may not amount to witness tampering if Trump didn’t directly tell others what to say or not say.

Trump already has come under scrutiny from critics who fear he may use his executive power to protect himself as well as friends and supporters. Last week, Trump told the New York Post that a pardon for his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was not off the table.

Prosecutors say Manafort torpedoed his plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller by repeatedly lying to them, although Manafort denies that he lied.

In one of Monday’s tweets, Trump took aim at Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney who once grandly declared he would “take a bullet” for the president but ultimately took a plea deal.

Cohen pleaded guilty last week to lying to Congress about negotiations he had on Trump’s behalf for a real estate deal in Moscow.

Though he told lawmakers the talks were done by January 2016, he admitted they actually lasted as late as June — after Trump had clinched the Republican nomination and after Russians had penetrated Democratic email accounts for communications later released through WikiLeaks.

Cohen said he lied out of loyalty to Trump, who insisted throughout the campaign that he had no business dealings in Russia, and to be consistent with his political messaging.

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