Mueller Investigation Moving Away From Russian Interference?

The special counsel may be moving beyond the 2016 campaign and into post-election obstruction of justice.

Mike Allen claims that he has unearthed “A huge clue about Mueller’s endgame.”

Axios has learned that special counsel Robert Mueller has focused on events since the election — not during the campaign — in his conversations with President Trump’s lawyers. The top two topics that Mueller has expressed interest in so far: the firings of FBI director James Comey and national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Why it matters: That suggests a focus on obstruction of justice while in office, rather than collusion with Russia during the campaign. But both sagas are interwoven with Russia: Trump himself has linked Comey’s firing to Russia, and Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition.

If this is truly the endgame—rather than just a means of gaining leverage to get back to the issue of Russian interference—my worst fears about the appointment of special prosecutors/investigators/counsels will have been confirmed. As I noted last May, when Mueller was first appointed,

Given the dizzying number of scandals and brouhahas surrounding this team since it took office—have I mentioned it’s been less than four months?—the appointment of a special counsel was perhaps inevitable. Having lived through the shit shows of Watergate, Iran-Contra, and Whitewater/Lewinski—the latter two since coming of age politically—I’ve dreaded the possibility. The nature of the endeavor is a massive, drawn-out fishing expedition with no real boundaries. The Iran-Contra investigation went on forever, most infamously including an indictment of key officials and damning allegations about George Bush’s conduct as vice president on the eve of his bid to be re-elected president—some six years later. And even those of us who thought Bill Clinton was rightly impeached over his perjury in the Lewinski matter had misgivings about the way Ken Starr’s investigation unfolded.

Mueller’s integrity is beyond question here and, certainly, lying to his investigators is something he’s obligated to investigate.  Still, remember what his initial remit was:

The Special Counsel is authorized to conduct the investigation confinned by then-FBI Director James 8. Corney in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20, 2017, including:

(i) any links and/or coordination bet ween the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and
(ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and
(iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).

The question Mueller was hired to investigate was the degree to which Trump and his associates coordinated with the Russian government.

Going after Michael Flynn for lying to investigators about the degree to which he and other campaign officials coordinated with the Russians is obviously well within the scope of that. And, presumably, Mueller will try to leverage that for cooperation in finding out the degree of coordination that existed.

But, for example, I’m exceedingly leery of Mueller’s recent move to investigate Donald Trump’s business empire. Ostensibly, he’s doing it because he has reason to believe that Trump has business dealings with the Russian government or cronies thereof that either provided the Russians leverage to use against him or that made him otherwise likely to be sympathetic to Russian interests. But what if he finds dirty dealings in the Trump Corporation that have nothing to do with Russia’s interference in the elections? One presumes that, as a matter that “arose . . . directly from the investigation,” that would be prosecutable. But it’s the very definition of a fishing expedition.

Similarly, if a Trump campaign official misleads investigators for reasons having nothing to do with coordination with Russian interference in the election, they’ll rightly be prosecuted. But, again, it would be an instance of crimes unrelated to the original matter under investigation.

Regular readers know I have little regard for Trump and his team. And, as already noted, I have the utmost respect for Mueller’s professionalism. But the very nature of his office is troublesome. Give any top-notch investigator unlimited resources—all the time and money he wants, the ability to hire the very best specialists, and subpoena power—plus a national media spotlight parsing every move and he can ruin pretty much anybody.

In a hypothetical world where Trump’s people were public servants of unusually high integrity, they’d still be foolish not to lawyer up under the circumstances. Many will be spending tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees just to protect themselves. That’s a hell of a price to pay for public service.

Given everything I know about Trump, I’d be shocked if his business dealings held up to a decent IRS audit, much less Mueller’s all-star team. And, goodness knows, having leveraged the Presidency to funnel money into his business, he deserves to be exposed. But, again, that’s not what Mueller was appointed to do.

Now, as I noted back in May,

Alas, given the firing of Comey, an Attorney General who is himself under suspicion, and a Republican Congress that seems content to put the short-term interests of their party over those of their country, there were no good options.

Trump himself did most of the work in creating this set of circumstances. If he’s ultimately discovered to have committed crimes unrelated to the Russia matter pursuant to this investigation, I won’t shed many tears. But I remain highly uneasy about the whole special counsel process.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Russia Investigation
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. While I share your concerns about the seemingly endless scope of a special/independent counsel in matters such as this, it’s worth noting that, at least procedurally, Mueller is required to consult with the Deputy Attorney General if he finds the need to go beyond the scope of the initial scope of the investigation. Presumably, Mueller has done that and Rod Rosenstein has signed off on what he’s doing.

    Additionally, to the extent that Mueller’s investigation is now apparently looking at efforts to obstruct justice and/or undermine his investigation then I think that could be said to fall within the jurisdiction granted him.




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  2. MarkedMan says:

    I’m sincerely curious, James. Did you feel the same way about Ken Star’s years long investigation into Bill and Hillary Clinton? I’m not talking about how you feel now, but how did you feel then? And if you changed your mind, what led you to that conclusion?




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  3. SKI says:

    (ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and

    Obstruction of justice to prevent the investigation of Russian interference would (a) seem to easily and appropriately qualify and (b) seem to be directly relevant to whether said interference existed. Similarly, financial entanglements goes to motive and opportunity.

    I’m not sure how/why you jumped from the above, in which Mueller is directly investigating what he was asked to do to a fishing expedition. Fishing expeditions are investigating not for a specific reason but to see if there is any dirt there. What Mueller is doing now is, presumably, targeted for a very specific reason – entanglements with Russia. It is the direct opposite of a fishing expedition.




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  4. James Joyner says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Additionally, to the extent that Mueller’s investigation is now apparently looking at efforts to obstruct justice and/or undermine his investigation then I think that could be said to fall within the jurisdiction granted him.

    Oh, absolutely. But falling within his jurisdiction is a whole different ballgame than pertaining to the matter which spurred his appointment. Everything Mueller is doing would seem obviously to fall within (ii) or (iii) of his remit. My point is that those are huge. And that (i) was the reason he was appointed. While, again, I won’t lose much sleep over bad things happening to Trump and company, I’d hate for the Russia investigation to come up a nothingburger but nonetheless see a lot of people go bankrupt or go to jail for only tangentially related matters.




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  5. CSK says:

    Unless I’m misunderstanding the situation badly, if Mueller finds evidence of crimes unrelated to Russia, he can hand that information over to the attorney general of NY, who is conducting his own investigation into Trump’s financial affairs.

    And in any case, if you’re investigating a bank robbery, and you discover that your chief suspected committed a murder unrelated to the robbery, should you not pursue that? Or turn your findings over to someone who can, at the very least?




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  6. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: I had mixed feelings about the Starr investigation but, having already been tainted by the Walsh investigation and its 11th hour interference in the 1992 election, I was pretty skeptical of the enterprise.

    @SKI: I don’t think there’s much choice but to turn over evidence of underlying illegality. My concern—which, again, has nothing to do with Trump per se—is that anyone with Mueller’s talent and resources is likely to find underlying illegality in anyone to which those resources are deployed.




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  7. MarkedMan says:

    James, I think you are stretching it. If the FBI is investigating a cartel and they find a suspect has burned documents related to the case, would you say that destruction is merely peripheral to the main case? The reality is that many cases are solved beyond a reasonable doubt by showing that the criminals destroyed evidence or lied to investigators.

    Take a look at Flynn. There appears to be strong evidence that he attempted to alter government policy in return for money. Manafort too. These people worked for Trump. It’s certainly not peripheral to investigate whether the guy at the top knew about it. And the investigation should focus on means, motive and opportunity. Investigating his dependence on Russian money speaks directly to motive. Aside from the the things Mueller might know that we don’t, there is Trump’s voluminous public defenses on how he never dealt with the Russians, didn’t have any business there, etc, etc. These are Trump’s defenses. He put them on the table. Mueller is obligated to investigate.

    Quite frankly, this whole “Mueller is pursuing peripheral leads” is something promoted by the “moderately clever Trump supporter” types. Don’t get sucked in by their nonsense.




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  8. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: BTW, I agree with you that special prosecutors can go off the reservation and use their power to pursue personal and partisan vendettas. I think Ken Starr is the uber example of that. My point above is that there is currently absolutely zero indication Mueller is going down that path.




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  9. MBunge says:

    I’m pretty sure Donald Trump wishes he lived in James Joyner’s world where he has never been audited and none of his business partners ever did their due diligence. I also think it’s fascinating to pair James Joyner’s recent comments on how rules don’t really apply to everyone with his conviction that everyone is a criminal in some way.

    As for Mueller, there’s a pretty obvious theory that explains all this. He’s already figured out there was no “Collusion!” and no obstruction. Now he’s trying to cross every “t” and dot every “i” so certain people can’t scream about cover ups, and he’s trying to document every possible interaction between the Trump campaign and its hangers on with Russia so Beltway elites can justify their hysteria. “We were wrong about Trump being Putin’s sleeper agent but we had good reason for thinking it.” They didn’t, of course, because they were unaware of most of the stuff Mueller will present but it’s a convenient excuse.

    Mike




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  10. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    But what if he finds dirty dealings in the Trump Corporation that have nothing to do with Russia’s interference in the elections? One presumes that, as a matter that “arose . . . directly from the investigation,” that would be prosecutable. But it’s the very definition of a fishing expedition.

    If I get pulled over for suspicion of DUI, and I am not, but they find a stolen property in my car…I’m still getting busted.




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  11. gVOR08 says:

    Doug always cautions us not to read too much into the Supremes’ oral argument questions. Similarly, Allen’s leap from what leaks he has on Mueller’s conversations with Trump’s team, presumably leaked from the Trump side, to his conclusion Mueller is focused on obstruction seems a bit thin.

    Trump said his redline was he and his family’s finances prior to his election. But even under a very narrow interpretation of his mandate, Mueller has to look at any potential dealing with Russian actors whenever they occurred. It seems likely Trump’s organization has laundered money and ignored the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. If Mueller stumbles across financial crimes unrelated to Russia, is he to ignore them?

    If Trump couldn’t stand the scrutiny, he shouldn’t have run for president.




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  12. James Joyner says:

    @MBunge:

    I also think it’s fascinating to pair James Joyner’s recent comments on how rules don’t really apply to everyone with his conviction that everyone is a criminal in some way.

    I’ve been pretty consistent on these issues over time.

    The rules apply to everybody. Even–especially—Presidents. At the same time, we should take the totality of a life’s work into account. Should Stan McCrystal and Dave Petraeus have been fired for their transgressions? Yes. Should they have been reduced in rank to buck private and sent off without their pensions? No.

    And, yes, it’s been widely documented for years that there are so many laws on the books that pretty much everyone could conceivably be found guilty of a felony. That’s almost certainly the case of people running massive business enterprises with offices stretched across the globe–particularly those who deal with autocratic regimes.




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  13. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @MBunge:

    He’s already figured out there was no “Collusion!” and no obstruction.

    Curious…what is the factual basis for that? Because if you only look at what we know, collusion is pretty likely, and obstruction is a slam dunk. I mean…unless your view is obstructed by a pair of fat orange butt cheeks.




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  14. gVOR08 says:

    I agree that a special prosecutor can easily turn into a fishing expedition. But I feel one should point out that Watergate, Iran-Contra, and Whitewater/Lewinski, are not good examples. Only the third can fairly be classed as a fishing expedition. The first two turned up significant criminal acts committed as part of the original causes of complaint, the Watergate break in and the farcical, if people hadn’t died, Iran-Contra affair. (The Reagan administration illegally sold banned weapons to Iran for secret cash to finance an illegal, failed, intervention in Nicaragua.)

    If Mueller finds obstruction of justice without a significant underlying crime, I’ll agree it was fishing. What do you think the odds of that are?




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  15. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner: No one here will think less of you for ignoring a criticism by Bunge.




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  16. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    While, again, I won’t lose much sleep over bad things happening to Trump and company, I’d hate for the Russia investigation to come up a nothingburger but nonetheless see a lot of people go bankrupt or go to jail for only tangentially related matters.

    But what if they are guilty as hell of those tangentially related matters?

    If the police get a search warrant, and search your home for drugs, but instead find the dead bodies of a half dozen people and no sign of drugs, should they say “right-o, carry on” and leave?

    If instead of dead bodies, they find blood stained floors, hacksaws and axes, should they not investigate that?




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  17. michael reynolds says:

    James:

    You’re over-reading the Axios story. Where Mueller is today is not necessarily where he was last month or will be next month. He is assembling pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and likely already has a pretty clear idea of whether Trump actively conspired with Putin. That piece may already have been properly placed in the puzzle.

    As for the poor, poor real estate developer who just can’t help but break the law while filling his bank account, are you fwcking kidding me? How about the guy who sells drugs to support his family because he has no other way to do so? That guy does 10 years in the joint and the billionaire gets our sympathy? Your inner Republican is showing. The rich who should be held to a higher standard than the poor, not given a free pass.




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  18. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    He’s already figured out there was no “Collusion!” and no obstruction.

    Curious…what is the factual basis of that claim? Because based solely on what we know, collusion is likely, and obstruction is a slam dunk.




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  19. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: Yes, as I tried to caveat early, we don’t know Mueller’s game plan and there are many routes back to the coordination issue. I’m just riffing on Allen’s saying he’d moved beyond that.

    I have a strong instinct against funding fishing expeditions. There was a good reason for this one—indeed, Trump gave DOJ little choice but appoint a special counsel. But I suspect most businesses would be in trouble if you gave Bob Mueller unlimited resources to go into their books and talk to their employees under threat of perjury charges.




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  20. SKI says:

    @James Joyner:

    @SKI: I don’t think there’s much choice but to turn over evidence of underlying illegality. My concern—which, again, has nothing to do with Trump per se—is that anyone with Mueller’s talent and resources is likely to find underlying illegality in anyone to which those resources are deployed.

    Really?!?!?

    You think you have committed a felony that an unrelated investigation would uncover? I’m pretty sure I haven’t…

    Unless you think that Mueller would go after someone for literal speeding tickets or honest *non-material* mistakes when applying for loans, etc., I don’t share your cynicism and/or experience.

    I am a compliance officer and conduct investigations as part of my job (though clearly not as exhaustively as the DOJ, FBI or Special Counsel). Do we uncover problems and issues when investigating something unrelated? All the time. If they are serious and/or material, they need to be addressed. Why does this strike you as unfair?




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  21. SKI says:

    @James Joyner:

    I have a strong instinct against funding fishing expeditions. There was a good reason for this one—indeed, Trump gave DOJ little choice but appoint a special counsel. But I suspect most businesses would be in trouble if you gave Bob Mueller unlimited resources to go into their books and talk to their employees under threat of perjury charges.

    Can you explain why you keep using the phrase “fishing expeditions”? If an investigator is legitimately investigating Issue X, by definition it can’t be a “fishing expedition”. No?

    To use a personal example, if the OCR comes in because we violated a patient’s HIPAA rights and in the process finds (a) we didn’t violate that patient’s rights but (b) did commit an unrelated violation, they can’t and shouldn’t ignore that violation. Why do you think it is unfair that, in that scenario, we got “caught”?




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  22. MBunge says:

    @James Joyner: At the same time, we should take the totality of a life’s work into account.

    Which is another way of saying “important” people get a break while everybody else gets screwed. Rich and/or politically connected? You get treated one way. A poor nobody, especially one who isn’t white? You get treated another way.

    It’s one thing to admit this is unfortunately how the world works and there’s only so much that can be done about it. It is quite another to openly and even enthusiastically endorse the principle that people who commit THE EXACT SAME OFFENSE should be treated differently based on their respective status.

    By the way, is Mueller going to be fired before or after McMasters?

    Mike




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  23. James Joyner says:

    @SKI: I’m conditioned by previous special prosecutors and the “Three Felonies a Day” phenomenon to believe that, because there are so many laws on the books, many of which are incredibly vague, that a well-resourced prosecutor can not only find plausible things to charge anyone with but that they can freeze assets and otherwise make things so miserable that people will plea bargain to make it stop. It’s just an absurdly one-sided contest in most instances.

    And, no, I don’t think it reasonable to go after someone for, say, technical violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which companies who operate in places like Russia, Turkey, and the Middle East do on a regular basis, that were found only because there’s an army of lawyers looking into collusion with respect to the 2016 election.




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  24. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: Most businesses would be in trouble with Mueller? I think you are being overly cynical. The problem is Trump himself. Trump is and was completely dirty. What is one of the very, very few things you can buy for millions in cash in the US and not have to report the transaction to the taxman? Real Estate. And Donald Trump’s business, since his last bankruptcy, has consisted of licensing his name for other developers to put on their buildings, and for that he gets 30%? Do you really think that downtown condos, whose going price can be calculated to the nickel based on location, style, amenities, etc, are suddenly worth 30% more when they have Donald frickin’ Trumps name on them? Hilton and Hyatt get a 2-3% premium for using their names, but Donald Trumps name is worth 10-15 times more? No. He helps Russian mobsters launder money.

    I said it over and over again during the primaries. Donald Trump would never accept the nomination because the scrutiny it would bring to his finances would end up in his destruction. I could not conceive that he would be so stupid as bring that kind of scrutiny on himself, but I was wrong, and he did, and now the inevitable is happening.

    I will agree with you about one thing. There are certain types of businesses where turning over any rock would no doubt uncover a nest of worms, and more rocks. The type of real estate that Trump has been involved in definitely fit right into that. Casinos, name-only real estate deals, odd golf condo deals where 30-40% collapse before they ever put a shovel in the ground taking every dime of the retiree’s down payments. He has been involved in sleaze central since the beginning of his career. But all the other people involved in those areas? They are too smart to run for President. Trump brought this on himself. This is Gary Hartman and the “Monkey Business” writ large.




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  25. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    It’s just an absurdly one-sided contest in most instances.

    I disagree. Sure, if a prosecutor has a vendetta against a poor or middle class person, they will almost certainly be able to railroad them. But look at Ken Starr. He investigated the Clintons for the better part of a decade, pushing a personal and partisan agenda to the extreme. And he got… a lie under oath about a sexual affair. He literally had hundreds of attorneys and researchers looking year after year after year into every facet of Clintons life. And they were thorough, after all they found (“horrors!”) that big wheel real estate developers in Arkansas had broken all kinds of laws. But the Clintons weren’t big wheel real estate developers. If they were, well, they would be way too smart to run for public office knowing their finances would be exposed and examined on a continuous basis.

    Trump is a crook. He’s not just a businessman that bent the rules as far as he legitimately could and maybe knocked them over a time or two. He’s dirty and has always been dirty. He got involved in casinos in Jersey during the height of the NY/NJ mafia’s power. He’s been a crook from the start. This isn’t a fishing expedition. His downfall was absolutely inevitable once he decided to accept the nomination.




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  26. KM says:

    @James Joyner:

    But I suspect most businesses would be in trouble if you gave Bob Mueller unlimited resources to go into their books and talk to their employees under threat of perjury charges.

    Jesus, James who do you hang out with? No, most people aren’t going to be “in trouble” even with the assumption most people break several laws a day. I know damn well I don’t live squeaky clean and I know I have nothing to fear from somebody like Mueller even if they were actively trying to screw me over. I’ve managed to pass several background checks and hold government security clearances regardless of being a less then perfect citizen – something half the WH can’t. People like Trump and his cronies are the exception and not the norm.




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  27. Tyrell says:

    @gVOR08: Mueller is moving – toward the Clinton – Lynch airplane meeting, and the interference in the Sanders campaign. Sanders would win primaries and fall further behind!




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  28. JohnMcC says:

    So it’s a darn shame if someone who only laundered a bunch of money, cheated the IRS and was very friendly with questionable investors gets swept up in an investigation that was actually counter-espionage. Darn shame if Gina Haspel who only helped a little bit in destroying evidence of war crimes got some of the stink of torture on her.

    Good people on both sides, eh? Got it.




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  29. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: That is an indictment of American business practices, not special prosecutors.




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  30. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: To some extent. but also our incredibly complex and vague set of laws. And the sheer power of the state. If a talented, well-resourced prosecutor starts with a strong conviction that you’ve done something wrong, they can usually ferret something out. And the investigation itself creates all manner of perjury traps.




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  31. SKi says:

    @James Joyner:

    If a talented, well-resourced prosecutor starts with a strong conviction that you’ve done something wrong, they can usually ferret something out.

    Do you have any reason to believe that is what is going on with Mueller?




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  32. James Joyner says:

    @SKi:

    Do you have any reason to believe that is what is going on with Mueller?

    I think it’s inherent in the position. And Allen’s report leads me to think that it could be happening. The post acknowledges that it’s speculative given that, by its very nature, the investigation is secretive and Mueller is playing his cards close to the vest.




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  33. SKi says:

    @James Joyner:

    the “Three Felonies a Day” phenomenon

    Ugh, not this ridiculousness… Silvergate managed to sell a lot of books and infect conservative and libertarian thought leaders who keep repeating it as if it were true but as an actual realistic assessment of what people actually do? Nope.




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  34. SKi says:

    @James Joyner:
    If Mueller is playing his cards close to the vest, just whom do you think provided source material for Allen? What motivations might they have to insist that there was no collusion available for Mueller to focus on? Might it be that your fears/biases are speaking, not your reasoning powers….




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  35. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    but also our incredibly complex and vague set of laws.

    I have no doubt that that is true far too often but if one finds the laws so vague and incomprehensible that one finds it impossible to do business in a certain area without violating the law, common sense says “Maybe I should make my money elsewhere.” but greed seems to overrule common sense every time.

    I was listening to NPR once and they were talking to various people about illegal immigrants. One guy said, “I couldn’t be in business if I couldn’t hire illegal immigrants.” I’m screaming at the radio, “What makes you think you have a right to be in business????”

    All too often today the modern business person thinks anything s/he can do to improve the bottom line is A-OK. Dump raw chemicals in that ravine behind the factory? Cheaper than hiring a disposal company. Fall harnesses for the carpenters building that 14/12 roof? They just slow men down. etc etc.




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  36. MarkedMan says:

    @Tyrell:

    Mueller is moving – toward the Clinton – Lynch airplane meeting

    So glad to hear! I understand that once he is done with that he will move on to the Solo gang, and their ridiculous claims about the Kessel run in under 12 parsecs!




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  37. gVOR08 says:

    I was just reminded that last week Mueller subpoenaed financial records from the Trump organization. If, as Mike Allen believes on the basis of little information, Mueller is going after obstruction, maybe his team can walk and chew gum, looking at Trump’s perhaps tainted finances and obstruction, and “collusion” at the same time.




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  38. MarkedMan says:

    @gVOR08:

    If, as Mike Allen believes on the basis of little information, Mueller is going after obstruction, maybe his team can walk and chew gum, looking at Trump’s perhaps tainted finances and obstruction, and “collusion” at the same time.

    To repeat myself, I don’t think the financial crimes are separate from the collusion. Mueller needs to show motive. Finances are the motive. Mueller needs to investigate Trump’s claims of innocence. Trump claims that since he had no business connections with Russia, he is immune to pressure from them.




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  39. CSK says:

    People keep forgetting that Trump’s already been nailed for money laundering. In its first year and a half of operations, the Trump Taj Mahal violated the Bank Secrecy Act 106 time. Yes, 106 times. The casino never reported the gamblers cashing out over $10,000 in a single day. Trump had to pay a $477,000 fine in 1998.

    This all took place before December 1991. Hadn’t Trump just gone bankrupt by then?




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  40. MarkedMan says:

    @CSK: Ah yes, Trump’s glory days. When certain individuals could walk into his casino, “win”, and then walk out with totally clean cash. Amazing!




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  41. michael reynolds says:

    I have zero sympathy for this idea that of course everyone in real estate is dirty, so la di da.

    First, when we make assumptions like that we are penalizing the good and excusing the bad. When is that ever a good idea?

    Second, I’ll worry about prosecutorial overreach hitting the billionaires when I see one actually go to jail. You have cops kicking in doors looking for drugs, shooting dogs and terrifying families – often at the wrong house – and I’m supposed to worry about some aszhole who desperately needs his next 100 million? The prisons are full of poor people in there for acts of desperation, but God forbid we touch some criminal who steals not for need, but for simple greed.




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  42. the Q says:

    Watergate a “shitshow”???????????????????? That has to be a typo.

    I guess the Pecora hearings were also a “shitshow” as the special counsel Ferdinand Pecora for the Senate Banking committee asked the barons of Wall Street how much they paid in income taxes as he waded into the causes of the Great Depression. Many thought this was outside the “scope” of the investigation, but when it was revealed how many “banksters” (this word was coined by journalists at the time) like JP Morgan and Charles Mitchell paid zero in taxes, the outraged public made it far easier for FDR to pass the Securities Act of 1933, which established the SEC (not the football conference).




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  43. Jay L Gischer says:

    One of the claims in the Steele dossier is that a stake in Rosneft was offered to Trump as a quid-pro-quo. So financial transactions with Russians seem to be on the table. If that was delivered, even in part, it wouldn’t have been done openly, so it’s going to take a lot of forensic accounting to find it.

    So to that extent, yeah, this seems entirely in scope. “Follow the money”.

    At another level, I understand all too well the queasiness you might feel at the scope offered to this investigation. I contend that the phenomenon of Trump is pretty much the situation that we offer such scope. We don’t have a lot of good choices, only bad ones and worse ones. They will probably get even worse before they get better. Brace yourself. I think we’re in for quite a ride.




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  44. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: Thank you! I was looking for a way to say what you just said.




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  45. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James Joyner:

    Everything Mueller is doing would seem obviously to fall within (ii) or (iii) of his remit. My point is that those are huge. And that (i) was the reason he was appointed.

    You need to read the order as establishing three areas of equal jurisdiction. Anything Mueller discovers in the course of (i) becomes a new, additional remit under (ii). Truthfully speaking, he can abandon (i) entirely, and choose to exclusively go after any (ii) issues that arise.

    The short version of this is that (i) – “collusion” (which people are misusing …) lead to (ii) money laundering, and now money laundering is IMO the chief focus of the investigation (and was always going to be).

    As I said in another thread, I’ve always found it curious why nobody much wondered why his first staff pick was a relatively obscure financial crimes expert. It should have been obvious from the outset that the financial aspects of this situation were always going to end up being the core of the investigation.




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  46. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @CSK:

    Unless I’m misunderstanding the situation badly, if Mueller finds evidence of crimes unrelated to Russia, he can hand that information over to the attorney general of NY, who is conducting his own investigation into Trump’s financial affairs.

    His investigation has been coordinated, essentially from the outset, with Scheiderman’s office to formulate strategy that preserves NY’s ability to pick up the reins with this investigation should something happen at the federal level.

    NY State has a unique idea of what constitutes double jeopardy, and staying on the right side of that line (thereby preserving two bites at the same apple) requires strategic planning among all parties involves and a thorough working knowledge of NY State law.

    Bob has amassed a team well (well, well, well) versed in both.




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  47. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: While it’s not my beat, I’ve written quite a bit over the years about both police misconduct and the shameful conditions of our prisons. It’s possible to oppose abuses across the system.

    It’s not my contention that everyone in business is dirty so much as that pretty much everyone would fear a fully-resourced Bob Mueller, convinced they’re dirty, unleashed on them. I have every reason to think Mueller is an honorable guy. He’s just got enormous power.

    @HarvardLaw92: That makes sense to me. As noted in the OP, I’m not going to shed a tear if Trump’s decades of shady dealings finally come home to roost. I’m just leery of it being because we sent a team of prosecutors against him for something unrelated. If it turns out—as I’ve suspected from the beginning—that Trump’s coordination with the Russians had much less to do with winning in 2016 than concealing crooked business dealing s with Putin and the oligarchs, I’m fine with that bringing him down. I’m less sanguine if it turns out that his Russian interests were in accordance with standard business practices and he’s brought down on unrelated charges discovered on a well-funded fishing expedition.

    @MarkedMan: I’m okay with that. Indeed, it’s my working theory of Mueller’s theory.

    @Jay L Gischer: I don’t think we’re in disagreement. I’m just very much a process and precedent guy. I’d really like to expedite getting Trump out of office so he can stop doing damage. I just don’t want to break the system to do it.




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  48. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James Joyner:

    This is just how investigations – all investigations – function. When you’re dealing with essentially known criminal behaviors, you look for the door opener. The premise that allows you to justify investigating the suspected parties. It doesn’t really matter what that is, or even if it’s the main offenses you suspect have been committed. It serves to open the door. Once it has been opened, you’re free to begin exploring the house.

    Once that has happened, you take what you can get. Remember that we knew, pretty much without a doubt, that Capone ordered scores of killings. We never could quite gather enough evidence to convict him of it. So we went with what we did have – tax evasion.

    Did we want to convict him of tax evasion when we knew he was a party to murder? No, but it served the primary purpose – to put his behind in a cell.

    Speaking frankly, I doubt that (i) will ever amount to much. It’s just too difficult to prove. Money laundering, though? Different story. Bob has amassed a team whose primary area of expertise is complex financial crimes. They won’t get him on “collusion”, but I’ll bet you a nice bottle of champagne (to drink as he’s shown the door) that they’ll get him on the financial crimes.

    It’s what this particular team was assembled to do …




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