If Bloomberg News report is accurate as to expanded probe of Trump, then we’re heading into Soviet territory.
The NY Times has published excerpts of its interview yesterday with Donald Trump.
While there were several newsworthy comments, most focus is on the criticism of Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the investigation and the resulting appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Sessions’ recusal is the most consequential event of the Trump presidency so far, because it resulted in what appears to be a wide-ranging investigation into Trump.
As posted earlier, the Mueller team appears to be larger in size than would be needed for an investigation into Russian meddling in the election, something I pointed out in Mueller legal team approaching size of entire US Attorney’s Office for Rhode Island.
That team and its staffing suggest that Trump would be at risk even if there was no underlying crime, Trump at risk from Comey/Mueller: If “they don’t get you on the crime, they get you on the process”.
There is the added problem that Trump’s conversations with James Comey appear to be part of the investigation, something that raises significant issues, Robert Mueller should step aside: Friends shouldn’t be investigating friends.
Recall that the Order from Acting Attorney General appointing Mueller did not authorize an investigation into everything Trump, but was restricted to matters related to Russian interference in the election (empasis added):
The Special Counsel is authorized to conduct the investigation confirmed by then-FBI Director James 8. Comey in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20, 2017, including: (i) any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and (ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and (iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).
Thus, Mueller is limited to continuing the pre-existing Comey investigation into Russian interference. That could include possible obstruction of justice in the course of that investigation, but would not expand to anything Trump ever did, even with regard to Russia.
Here are the pertinent excerpts from the Times interview on the issue of Mueller, and how investigating Trump family and business financial transactions not directly related to alleged Russian meddling in the election could cross a line in Trump’s view:
BAKER: What would cause you — what would be the line beyond which if Mueller went, you would say, “That’s too far, we would need to dismiss him”?
TRUMP: Look, there are so many conflicts that everybody has. Then Rosenstein becomes extremely angry because of Comey’s Wednesday press conference, where he said that he would do the same thing he did a year ago with Hillary Clinton, and Rosenstein became extremely angry at that because, as a prosecutor, he knows that Comey did the wrong thing. Totally wrong thing. And he gives me a letter, O.K., he gives me a letter about Comey. And by the way, that was a tough letter, O.K. Now, perhaps I would have fired Comey anyway, and it certainly didn’t hurt to have the letter, O.K. But he gives me a very strong letter, and now he’s involved in the case. Well, that’s a conflict of interest. Do you know how many conflicts of interests there are? But then, then Comey also says that he did something in order to get the special prose— special counsel. He leaked. The reason he leaked. So, he illegally leaked.
* * *
SCHMIDT: Last thing, if Mueller——
TRUMP: And I couldn’t have been better than the stuff I had. Obviously, because I won.
SCHMIDT: Last thing, if Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia — is that a red line?
HABERMAN: Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?
TRUMP: I would say yeah. I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don’t — I don’t — I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don’t make money from Russia. In fact, I put out a letter saying that I don’t make — from one of the most highly respected law firms, accounting firms. I don’t have buildings in Russia. They said I own buildings in Russia. I don’t. They said I made money from Russia. I don’t. It’s not my thing. I don’t, I don’t do that. Over the years, I’ve looked at maybe doing a deal in Russia, but I never did one. Other than I held the Miss Universe pageant there eight, nine years [crosstalk].
SCHMIDT: But if he was outside that lane, would that mean he’d have to go?
HABERMAN: Would you consider——
TRUMP: No, I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia. So I think if he wants to go, my finances are extremely good, my company is an unbelievably successful company. And actually, when I do my filings, peoples say, “Man.” People have no idea how successful this is. It’s a great company. But I don’t even think about the company anymore. I think about this. ’Cause one thing, when you do this, companies seem very trivial. O.K.? I really mean that. They seem very trivial. But I have no income from Russia. I don’t do business with Russia. The gentleman that you mentioned, with his son, two nice people. But basically, they brought the Miss Universe pageant to Russia to open up, you know, one of their jobs. Perhaps the convention center where it was held. It was a nice evening, and I left. I left, you know, I left Moscow. It wasn’t Moscow, it was outside of Moscow.
HABERMAN: Would you fire Mueller if he went outside of certain parameters of what his charge is? [crosstalk]
SCHMIDT: What would you do?
TRUMP: I can’t, I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.
Bloomberg News is reporting this morning that Mueller indeed is looking at a wide range of Trump business relations with Russia going back many years, Mueller Expands Probe to Trump Business Transactions:
The U.S. special counsel investigating possible ties between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia in last year’s election is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe.
The president told the New York Times on Wednesday that any digging into matters beyond Russia would be out of bounds. Trump’s businesses have involved Russians for years, making the boundaries fuzzy so Special Counsel Robert Mueller appears to be taking a wide-angle approach to his two-month-old probe.
FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said.
John Dowd, one of Trump’s lawyers, said on Thursday he was unaware of this element of the investigation. “Those transactions are in my view well beyond the mandate of the Special counsel; are unrelated to the election of 2016 or any alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and most importantly, are well beyond any Statute of Limitation imposed by the United States Code,” he wrote in an email.
Agents are also interested in dealings with the Bank of Cyprus, where Wilbur Ross served as vice chairman before he became commerce secretary. They are also examining the efforts of Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law and White House aide, to secure financing for some of his family’s real estate properties. The information was provided by someone familiar with the developing inquiry but not authorized to speak publicly.
The roots of Mueller’s follow-the-money investigation lie in a wide-ranging money laundering probe launched by then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara last year, according to the person.
If Mueller is moving in this direction, then he has crossed — or is very close to crossing — the line into what isn’t supposed to happen in this country, finding the person then finding the crime. Even Kevin Drum at Mother Jones notes this problem:
I’ll confess to some mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, this stuff is all semi-related to Russia, and might therefore be relevant to the campaign issue. On the other hand, we’ve all seen what happens when special prosecutors get out of control and start investigating everything under the sun. So far this looks like it’s still legitimately tied to Mueller’s original brief, but it’s a close call.
There is a place where the doctrine was to find the person, then find the crime. It was in Russia’s predecessor, the Soviet Union. How ironic and inappropriate it would be if that is the direction Mueller is heading.DONATE
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