Fox News host and Trump apologizer Sean Hannity on his show Wednesday night advised witnesses in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation to “follow Hillary Clinton’s lead” and destroy their personal phones before handing them over to prosecutors.
Hannity’s comments followed a report by CNBC that Mueller’s team had asked witnesses in its probe to turn over their personal phones for examination of encrypted messaging apps, like WhatsApp, Dust and Signal.
The right-wing host criticized Mueller’s “pitbull” team for the tactic of demanding that witnesses turn over phones and all encrypted apps, along with the messages and emails within them.
“Maybe Mueller’s witnesses, I don’t know,” Hannity said on air. “If I advised them to follow Hillary Clinton’s lead, delete all your emails and then acid-wash your emails and hard drives on the phones, then take your phones and bash them with a hammer to little itsy bitsy pieces, use BleachBit, remove the sim cards and then take the pieces and hand them over to Robert Mueller, and say, Hillary Rodham Clinton, this is equal justice under the law.”
Hannity’s advice to witnesses to destroy evidence could amount to “witness tampering,” which is a federal crime.
Witness tampering is the act of attempting to alter or prevent the testimony of witnesses within criminal or civil proceedings. Laws regarding witness tampering also apply to proceedings before the U.S. Congress, executive departments, and administrative agencies. To be charged with witness tampering in the United States, the attempt to alter or prevent testimony is sufficient. There is no requirement that the intended obstruction of justice be completed.
In the United States, the crime of witness tampering in federal cases is defined by statute at 18 U.S.C. § 1512, which defines it as “tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant,” including cause or induce any person to:
(b) Withhold testimony, or withhold a record, document, or other object, from an official proceeding;
(c) Alter, destroy, mutilate, or conceal an object with intent to impair the integrity or availability of the object for use in an official proceeding
This is exactly what Hannity did on his show. The punishment for such an offense is up to 20 years if physical force was used, attempted, or threatened. The tampering need not have actually been successful in order for it to be criminal.
Watch Hannity’s video
Hannity later said that he was kidding in repeating the advice that witnesses should follow Clinton’s lead and destroy their phones before giving them to Mueller.
Mueller wants everyone’s cell phones. My advice to them, not really, kidding, bad advice, would be, follow Hillary’s lead. Delete them, acid wash them, bust them up, take out the SIM cards and say here Mr. Mueller, here,” Hannity said, “I’m following Hillary’s lead.”