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.
Trump didn’t say Mueller would cross the line by looking at any aspect of his family business, just any aspect that isn’t related to Russia. Maybe the subpoena the NYT is reporting on today *is* related to Russia. But then that raises a new question: Why was a subpoena needed? What made the Trump Org reluctant to share the documents Mueller requested this time, having voluntarily complied with requests for material previously?
The breadth of the subpoena was not clear, nor was it clear why Mr. Mueller issued it instead of simply asking for the documents from the company, an umbrella organization that oversees Mr. Trump’s business ventures. In the subpoena, delivered in recent weeks, Mr. Mueller ordered the Trump Organization to hand over all documents related to Russia and other topics he is investigating, the people said.
The subpoena is the latest indication that the investigation, which Mr. Trump’s lawyers once regularly assured him would be completed by now, will drag on for at least several more months. Word of the subpoena comes as Mr. Mueller appears to be broadening his investigation to examine the role foreign money may have played in funding Mr. Trump’s political activities. In recent weeks, Mr. Mueller’s investigators have questioned witnesses, including an adviser to the United Arab Emirates, about the flow of Emirati money into the United States.
The Trump Org already gave Mueller a raft of material related to Russia a few months ago, per CNN. Now Mueller’s knocking again. What could he want this time? The Times speculates that the request is related to the proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, but Trump Org documents related to that have been floating around on news sites for half a year. No doubt Mueller requested them previously. Maybe that explains the subpoena: The special counsel may have reason to believe that the Trump Org has been withholding something from him.
He’s playing hardball at a fraught moment:
This is RUMINT, but pretty credible RUMINT: Trump preparing to fire Sessions, name Pruitt Acting AG (which he can be since he already holds a Senate confirmed position), and Pruitt fires Mueller. And McMaster likely to be replaced by Bolton. Shulkin also on way out, FWIW.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) March 14, 2018
Kristol’s not the only one hearing the rumor. Gabriel Sherman also reported yesterday that Trump might be eyeing swapping out Sessions for Pruitt, an ambitious young pol who’s used to battling with enraged lefties per his tenure at the EPA. If Trump resolves to fire Mueller without making a change at the top of the DOJ first, he could be looking at a clusterfark of resignations. Rod Rosenstein might resign (or be fired) rather than give the order; Sessions, although powerless over the Russiagate probe, might resign in protest too given the hostility between him and Trump these days. The cleanest way for Trump to oust Mueller would be for him to replace Sessions with an AG who’ll do his bidding. Pruitt might fit the bill. And with Trump in spring-cleaning mode and Mueller now sniffing around the family business, the time might be right.
One thing, though. Mueller’s been sniffing around Trump’s finances for the better part of a year. He’s seemingly crossed the “red line” already with no repercussions. It may be that he has Trump’s staff, particularly Don McGahn, to thank for that more so than POTUS, but the fact remains that Trump has tolerated the encroaching investigation for many months, even as his own son-in-law has become increasingly bogged down in it. There’s no firm reason apart from his increasing confidence in exercising his presidential authority over personnel to think he’d drop the axe on Mueller for this new subpoena.
In fact, Politico reported just this morning that Team Trump is steaming ahead towards an interview between Trump and Mueller. That’s bananas strategically but Trump seems intent on doing it. Maybe he thinks a presidential sitdown to fill in any remaining blanks Mueller has will bring the obstruction-of-justice part of the investigation to an end, at least. That’s a reasonable assumption except for the fact that Mueller could choose to sit on his findings on obstruction for awhile, for strategic reasons. The worry is that if he charges Trump or anyone in his inner circle, he could get fired or witnesses could stop cooperating. Imagine POTUS’s exasperation if he agrees to an interview in the hope/expectation that that’ll wrap things up, only to find himself in limbo for months to come while Mueller focuses on investigating collusion. There’s no way this status quo will last.