Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Russian To Judgment, Con't

There are now four major investigations into Donald Trump (the Mueller probe, House Democrats, Southern District of NY Federal, and NY State AG) and while we've heard a lot of recent action on the first three, it's the fourth one that should have Trump up sweating off his orange bronzer at night.

The New York attorney general’s office late on Monday issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank for records relating to the financing of four major Trump Organization projects and a failed effort to buy the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League in 2014, according to a person briefed on the subpoenas.

The inquiry opens a new front in the scrutiny of Deutsche Bank, one of the few lenders willing to do business with Donald J. Trump in recent years. The bank is already the subject of two congressional investigations and was examined last year by New York banking regulators, who took no action.

The new inquiry, by the office of the attorney general, Letitia James, was prompted by the congressional testimony last month of Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, the person briefed on the subpoenas said. Mr. Cohen testified under oath that Mr. Trump had inflated his assets in financial statements, and Mr. Cohen provided copies of statements he said had been submitted to Deutsche Bank.

The inquiry by Ms. James’s office is a civil investigation, not a criminal one, although its focus and scope were unclear. The attorney general has broad authority under state law to investigate fraud and can fine — or in extreme cases, go to court to try to dissolve — a business that is found to have engaged in repeated illegality.

The request to Deutsche Bank sought loan applications, mortgages, lines of credit and other financing transactions in connection with the Trump International Hotel in Washington; the Trump National Doral outside Miami; and the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, the person said.

Investigators also requested records connected to an unsuccessful effort to buy the Bills, the person said. Mr. Trump gave Deutsche Bank bare-bones personal financial statements in 2014 when he planned to make a bid for the team, The New York Times has reported. The deal fell through when the team was sold to a rival bidder for $1.4 billion.

Mr. Trump worked with a small United States-based unit of Deutsche Bank that serves ultra-wealthy people. The unit lent Mr. Trump more than $100 million in 2012 to pay for the Doral golf resort and $170 million in 2015 to transform the Old Post Office Building in Washington into a luxury hotel.

New Jersey-based Investors Bank was subpoenaed for records relating to Trump Park Avenue, a project it had backed.

A spokeswoman for Deutsche Bank said on Tuesday that it had received the subpoena.

Investors Bank declined to comment. The Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment.

Now again, this is a civil case so far.  But if it turns up criminal activity, and it most certainly will given Trump's deep history of money laundering and fraud, all bets are off.

The other issue is what Mueller is up to on the counterintelligence front, and as former US Attorney Nelson Cunningham explains, that report can't be buried.

The most public and familiar one is as a criminal investigator under the special counsel regulations. But Mueller has also carried a second charge, as a counterintelligence expert, with a much broader charge to determine and report the scope of any interference and any links to the Trump campaign—what Trump himself might refer to as “collusion.”

In March 2017, then-FBI Director James Comey testified that the Russia investigation was commenced “as part of our counterintelligence mission . . . also includ[ing] an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s May 17, 2017 order appointing Mueller special counsel specifically and carefully incorporated this announced scope and mission.

From the start, then, Mueller has been conducting a counterintelligence investigation, while “also” assessing whether any crimes were committed. Not the other way around.

Comey and Rosenstein knew what they were doing. It is the mission of a criminal investigation to produce indictments and trials, which tell stories and render conclusions only imperfectly. Thanks to the special counsel regulations, there is also “a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions.” But what will go into this report and what the Congress and public may ultimately see is highly proscribed.

It is the central mission of a counterintelligence investigation, however, to produce . . . well, a report. These findings and conclusions are shared with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), and relevant agencies of the 17-member intelligence community (CIA, NSA, DIA, etc.). The report may be honed into a formal IC “assessment” reflecting the consensus view of the 17 agencies. It was just such a report, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” that on Jan. 7, 2017 was shared with incoming President Trump. Its disclosure brought into public view the Intelligence Community’s bombshell conclusion that Vladimir Putin had personally ordered an effort to discredit Hillary Clinton and to “help President-elect Trump’s election chances.”

Significantly, unlike a final criminal report, a Mueller counterintelligence report cannot be bottled up. By statute it must be shared with Congress. The House and Senate intelligence committees are legally entitled to be given reports, in writing, of significant intelligence and counterintelligence activities or failures. Mueller’s findings will certainly qualify.

Where matters are too delicate to share with all the members of the intelligence committees, statute and established practice provide that disclosure may be made to a smaller circle known as the “Gang of Eight:” the chair and ranking member of each intelligence committee, and the Democratic and Republican leaders of each chamber.

Already, these obligations have generated significant disclosures to Congress of Russia’s activities. In August 2016, then-CIA Director John Brennan briefed members of the Gang of Eight on the then-new signs of Russian interference and hacking. The explosive disclosure in the January 2017 IC assessment that Putin had ordered interference specifically to assist then-candidate Trump was also thanks to these provisions. And in May 2017, then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe informed the Gang of Eight that in the wake of Comey’s firing, the FBI had focused its counter-intelligence investigation on the president himself.

Mueller inherited this investigation just days later, and he inherited this reporting framework as well. Twenty-two months of relentless investigation have followed since.

Bottom line: the investigations into Donald Trump's criminality will continue for some time, because there's decades of filth to dig through.

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