And so the wide-ranging special counsel investigation ranges even further, raising questions about the transition as well as about the investigation itself. ABC News reports that Robert Mueller’s team has questioned a number of people about the massive fundraising for Donald Trump’s inauguration. The largely unregulated process raised $107 million from lots of sources, not all of them within the US:
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has questioned several witnesses about millions of dollars in donations to President Donald Trump’s inauguration committee last year, including questions about donors with connections to Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, sources with direct knowledge told ABC News.
Those interviewed included longtime Trump friend and confidant Thomas Barrack, who oversaw the fundraising effort, as well as individuals familiar with the massive inaugural fund, according to sources with direct knowledge. …
According to a source who has sat with the Mueller team for interviews in recent weeks, the special counsel is examining donors who have either business or personal connections in Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Several donors with those ties contributed large sums to the non-profit fundraising entity – gifts that topped out at $1 million dollars, according to public records.
The donors noted by ABC include one well-known name, Viktor Vekselberg, at least indirectly. The Russian billionaire, already under indictment by Robert Mueller, attended the inauguration, but it was his American relative and business partner Andrew Intrater who dropped a big chunk of money into the inauguration fund. Another billionaire with ties to Russia, Leonard Blatavnik, coughed up a million dollars as well. Intrater made two donations in 2017 to the RNC and their joint Trump Victory fund, both within the legal limits.
Certainly the existence of Russian influencers among the donors would catch the attention of investigators. The timing on all of this seems rather curious, including that of the report. These donations were listed on FEC records for a very long time, so why this has become an issue of late — if that’s the case — is somewhat confusing.
More confusing, though, is what this has to do with Russian collusion during the election. The hypothesis, for which we have seen no real evidence, is that the Trump campaign worked with Russia to (a) hack the DNC and (b) smear Hillary Clinton before Election Day. None of this has anything to do with the election. Why would Intrater’s legal donations in 2017 have anything to do with Mueller’s core mission? If they were illegal, that’s something that the Department of Justice could deal with directly without the special counsel.
The idea that Russian oligarchs involved in election influence bought Trump’s goodwill with massive inaugural-committee donations is somewhat silly, but also undermines the collusion theory. If collusion took place, why would Vekselberg et al feel the need to butter up Trump by putting large amounts of cash into his inaugural party? If they had that kind of dirt on Trump, they wouldn’t give him money — they’d threaten to release it.
Perhaps all of this ties together in some strange way, but at least from ABC’s report, it appears that Mueller and his team are straying further from their core mission. It gives the impression that these prosecutors are looking for crimes to bring to trial rather than limiting themselves to their brief … and not for the first time, either.