Report: Mueller's team looking at possible money laundering of Russian payoffs by Trump associates

Report: Mueller's team looking at possible money laundering of Russian payoffs by Trump associates

It’s still a collusion investigation, notwithstanding the new interest in possible obstruction of justice by Trump himself. Per the Times:

A former senior official said Mr. Mueller’s investigation was looking at money laundering by Trump associates. The suspicion is that any cooperation with Russian officials would most likely have been in exchange for some kind of financial payoff, and that there would have been an effort to hide the payments, probably by routing them through offshore banking centers.

Offshore banking centers? Hmmm. There is a former high-ranking Trump campaign official known for operating multiple companies and bank accounts on Cyprus, a country which “has long been known as a hub for moving money in and out of Russia.” That same official has been accused by a Ukrainian lawmaker of laundering money paid to him by the party of former Putin puppet Viktor Yanukovych. Go figure that Mueller might be interested in any mysterious payments moving into or out of Manafort’s accounts during the campaign.

But that’s not the only possible line of investigation. USA Today reported a few days ago that there’s been a striking increase since Trump won the nomination last year in purchases of Trump properties by LLCs, which are allowed by law to conceal the names of the people who operate them. And that trend isn’t industry-wide. It appears to be unique to Trump-owned realty:

The real estate cache, which Trump has never fully revealed and is not required by law to disclose, offers unique opportunity for anyone to steer money to a sitting President. The increase in purchasers shielded by LLCs makes it far more difficult to track who is paying the President and his companies for properties ranging in price from $220,000 to $10 million – or more.

The clear post-nomination shift since last year to more shell-company purchases is unique to sales by Trump’s companies, even in his own towers and neighborhoods. Condos owned by others in the same buildings, and sold during the same time period, were bought by LLCs in no more than 20% of the transactions. In some areas, the share was far less.

The share of Trump properties bought by LLCs, by comparison, is around 70 percent. In some cases, one would think, that’s a simple matter of wealthy Americans not wanting to make themselves vulnerable to boycotts by doing business publicly with Trump. Better to hide behind an LLC in buying your new place than to do it out in the open and risk the wrath of the left. It’s also conceivable, though, that some of those LLCs are operated by foreign interests, people looking to shovel money at the president’s family for whatever reason by paying way, way above market for their new property. Mueller’s doubtless going to be looking at that too.

Trump must be itching to fire Mueller reading the details about money laundering in the Times today, but realistically there’s no longer any way for him to do it. “Can’t fire him now,” said one GOP operative to Axios about the fallout from the WaPo bombshell last night. White House aides whispering to the Daily Beast acknowledge that this is a mess mostly of Trump’s own making: If he had just left Comey alone and let the Russiagate probe play out, he probably would have been cleared in time and there’d be no obstruction nonsense swirling around him.

White House officials are still insisting to the president that he should leave Mueller in his post. “We are all advising him not to [get rid of] Mueller. That has not changed,” one Trump aide told The Daily Beast. “It would be an absolute nuclear explosion if he did.”…

Another White House official conceded that it would be “suicide” if Trump sacked Mueller at this point, but “I’d be insincere if I said it wasn’t a concern that the president would try to do it anyway.”…

Asked what the internal game plan should be, one senior Trump administration official replied, “Keep him away from Twitter, dear God, keep him away from Twitter.”

“The president did this to himself,” the official added.

Axios’s sources inside the White House assume that Comey is probably telling the truth about what Trump said to him in terms of letting Flynn go. And they’re reportedly concerned about the money-laundering line of inquiry since, if anything turns up, it would provide a possible motive for obstruction: “Any obstruction probe requires context, which means investigators digging into the finances of Flynn, Trump and Jared Kushner. This is the phase of the probe many Republicans have always feared most.” Right now there’s an innocuous explanation for Trump firing Comey and opposing the Russiagate probe: He was annoyed that Comey wouldn’t say publicly that the president wasn’t personally under investigation, and the perception of wrongdoing was hurting him politically. (Firing Comey made that perception much worse, but oh well.) If it turns out there’s money changing hands with Russia somewhere among his campaign associates, then the suspicion will shift to “Did Trump know?” and “Is that the real reason why he wanted to end the probe?”

Anyway, there’s no way Mueller’s special counsel probe survives the summer, despite the sage counsel of Trump’s inner circle. The “nuclear explosion” is coming.

Exit question: The New York Times couldn’t possibly bungle a highly sensitive story about Russiagate, could it?

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