Mueller probe expands to include Trump business transactions, despite Trump warning in NYT interview

Technically Trump’s warning was aimed only at business dealings that don’t have to do with Russia. Mueller needs to stay in his lane, he told the Times:

SCHMIDT: Last thing, if Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia — is that a red line?

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?…

TRUMP: No, I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.

Around 15 hours later, Bloomberg has confirmation from someone close to the special counsel’s office that his probe is in fact now looking at Trump’s business dealings — albeit, so far, only with Russian interests. It’s hard to tell if that leak’s designed to be reassuring or defiant to the White House. It’s reassuring in that it confirms that Mueller is staying his lane for now, but it must be unnerving to Trump to know that Russiagate now involves scrutiny of his businesses. If Mueller stumbles on something criminal but unrelated to the Russia investigation, what does he do? Ignore it? What did Ken Starr, charged with investigating Whitewater, do when the Lewinsky scandal landed on his doorstep?

A president who resents the special counsel to begin with and is sufficiently anxious about people knowing what his businesses are up to that he won’t release his tax returns isn’t going to tolerate this comfortably, assuming he tolerates it at all. Is it time to start the pool on Trump firing Mueller? This constitutional crisis will be the best constitutional crisis, believe me:

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…

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…

Mueller’s team is looking at the Trump SoHo hotel condominium development, which was a licensing deal with Bayrock Capital LLC. In 2010, the former finance director of Bayrock filed a lawsuit claiming the firm structured transactions in fraudulent ways to evade taxes. Bayrock was a key source of capital for Trump development projects, including Trump SoHo.

An interesting wrinkle to the deals named in Bloomberg’s article is that they all happened years before Trump became a candidate, raising the question of what nexus Mueller might be exploring between Trump’s business operations and the campaign hackings by Moscow last year. Is he looking for overlap in personnel, i.e. Russians who transacted with Trump previously whose names have surprisingly reappeared in the hacking probe? Or is he looking at something more elaborate, like Russian interests paying above market for Trump properties in the past in the expectation that there’d be a quid pro quo later? If so, how could they have known that Trump would eventually turn to politics? What sort of private-sector quid pro quo would they have been expecting instead? A provocative line from the Bloomberg story: “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.” Hmmmm.

This leak comes on the same day, by the way, that the Times is out with a splashy piece on Paul Manafort having owed many millions of dollars to pro-Russian interests before becoming Trump’s campaign manager last year. Someone with that sort of debt, and especially those sorts of creditors, wouldn’t stand a chance of getting a security clearance at a government agency, yet for awhile he was running the Republican presidential campaign. He’s been “invited” to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week. Stay tuned. Exit question: When does Trump finally drop the axe on Mueller? Before or after Labor Day?

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David Strom 5:21 PM on December 09, 2022