We talked yesterday about Trump's NY Times interview where he left the door open to firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller if Mueller didn't back off of Trump's business deals, that Trump considered it a "red line" and left it unsaid what fate would await the investigation if Mueller crossed it. Well, turns out yesterday's late Trump/Russia news included new information implying strongly that the Mueller investigation of Russia has indeed now widened to include Trump's business interests.
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 in New York 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.
The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
John Dowd, one of Trump’s lawyers, said on Thursday that he was unaware of the inquiry into Trump’s businesses by the two-months-old investigation and considered it beyond the scope of what Special Counsel Robert Mueller should be examining.
“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.
The Trump regime's response last night was breathtaking and instantaneous: Trump is now floating a Nixon-style Saturday Night Massacre scenario where Trump fires everyone involved in the investigation and is even openly considering blanket pardons.
Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.
Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.
Trump’s legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.
“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’ ” a close adviser said.
With the Russia investigation continuing to widen, Trump’s lawyers are working to corral the probe and question the propriety of the special counsel’s work. They are actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work, according to several of Trump’s legal advisers.
A conflict of interest is one of the possible grounds that can be cited by an attorney general to remove a special counsel from office under Justice Department regulations that set rules for the job.
The president is also irritated by the notion that Mueller’s probe could reach into his and his family’s finances, advisers said.
Trump has been fuming about the probe in recent weeks as he has been informed about the legal questions that he and his family could face. His primary frustration centers on why allegations that his campaign coordinated with Russia should spread into scrutinizing many years of Trump dealmaking. He has told aides he was especially disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns.
Trump has repeatedly refused to make his tax returns public after first claiming he could not do so because he was under audit or after promising to release them after an IRS audit was completed. All presidents since Jimmy Carter have released their tax returns.
Further adding to the challenges facing Trump’s outside lawyers, the team’s spokesman, Mark Corallo, resigned on Thursday, according to two people familiar with his departure. Corallo did not respond to immediate requests for comment.
“If you’re looking at Russian collusion, the president’s tax returns would be outside that investigation,” said a close adviser to the president.
The NY Times is backing up the Washington Post on this, adding that the Trump legal team is looking for any dirt they can find in order to dismantle the Mueller investigation entirely without "firing" him...for now.
For weeks, Republicans have publicly identified what they see as potential conflicts among Mr. Mueller’s team of more than a dozen investigators. In particular, they have cited thousands of dollars of political donations to Democrats, including former President Barack Obama, made by Andrew Weissmann, a former senior Justice Department official who has expertise in fraud and other financial crimes. News reports have revealed similar donations by other members of Mr. Mueller’s team, which Mr. Trump’s allies have cited as evidence of political bias. Another lawyer Mr. Mueller has hired, Jeannie Rhee, represented the Clinton Foundation.
To seek a recusal, Mr. Trump’s lawyers can argue their case to Mr. Mueller or his boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. The Justice Department has explicit rules about what constitutes a conflict of interest. Prosecutors may not participate in investigations if they have “a personal or political relationship” with the subject of the case. Making campaign donations is not included on the list of things that would create a “political relationship.”
The examination of Mr. Mueller’s investigators reflects deep concerns among the president’s aides that Mr. Mueller will mount a wide-ranging investigation in the mold of the inquiry conducted by the independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr during the 1990s. Mr. Starr’s investigation into President Bill Clinton began by reviewing an Arkansas land deal and concluded several years later with the president’s impeachment over a lie about a sexual affair.
By building files on Mr. Mueller’s team, the Trump administration is following in the footsteps of the Clinton White House, which openly challenged Mr. Starr and criticized what Mr. Clinton’s aides saw as a political witch hunt.
Of course, it didn't work then, and it's not going to work now. The panic is starting to set in at the White House, and panicked people do stupid, stupid things. But as I said before, this is the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end. There's still a long way to go.