Mueller Subpoenas Trump Organization Regarding Russia Ties

Robert Mueller's investigation appears to enter a new phase, with a focus on the President's business dealings with Russia.

The New York Times is reporting that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has issued a subpoena to The Trump Organization seeking documents related to business dealings with Russia:

WASHINGTON — The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has subpoenaed the Trump Organization to turn over documents, including some related to Russia, according to two people briefed on the matter. It is the first known instance of the special counsel demanding documents directly related to President Trump’s businesses, bringing the investigation closer to the president.

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.

Neither White House officials nor Alan S. Futerfas, a lawyer representing the Trump Organization, immediately responded to requests for comment. The Trump Organization has typically complied with requests from congressional investigators for documents for their own inquiries into Russian election interference, and there was no indication the company planned to fight Mr. Mueller about it.

The Trump Organization has said that it never had real estate holdings in Russia, but witnesses recently interviewed by Mr. Mueller have been asked about a possible real estate deal in Moscow. In 2015, a longtime business associate of Mr. Trump’s emailed Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, at his Trump Organization account claiming he had ties to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and said that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would help Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.

Mr. Trump signed a nonbinding “letter of intent” for the project in 2015 and discussed it three times with Mr. Cohen.

Mr. Mueller could run afoul of a line the president has warned him not to cross. Though it is not clear how much of the subpoena is related to Mr. Trump’s business beyond ties to Russia, Mr. Trump said in an interview with The New York Times in July that the special counsel would be crossing a “red line” if he looked into his family’s finances beyond any relationship with Russia. The president declined to say how he would respond if he concluded that the special counsel had crossed that line.

A month before Mr. Trump spoke of his red line, the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, threatened to quit after Mr. Trump asked him to have Mr. Mueller fired because the president believed he had conflict-of-interest issues that precluded him from running the special counsel investigation.

Mr. Mueller was appointed in May to investigate whether Mr. Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election and any other matters that may arise from the inquiry. He is also examining whether the president has tried to obstruct the investigation.

As noted, the exact subject matter of the subpoena is unclear, as is the period for which Mueller is requesting documents, and we are unlikely to learn what the parameters of the subpoena are unless The Trump Organization or the President himself seek to challenge it in court, although we may get some idea what the subpoena is requesting from subsequent reports. At the very least, though, it seems clear that Mueller’s investigation has entered a different phase that goes somewhat beyond the issues of Russian interference in the election and is aimed more toward discovering what if any financial ties President Trump and his various business entities may have to Russia, Russian officials, or one of the many Russian oligarchs who make up the inner circle of Russian President Vladimir Putin, many of whom are believed to serve as frontmen for a Putin fortune that is estimated to make him one of the wealthiest men in the world.

This move is potentially significant due to the fact that President Trump has said repeatedly in the past that he had no ties to Russia except perhaps beyond the possibility that some Russian billionaires may have bought condominiums in one of Trump’s properties in the United States or elsewhere around the world. To believe Trump, in fact, would be to believe that he had no interest in Russia at all as far as business was concerned and that he paid so little attention to the workings of his real estate holdings that he would be unaware if a Russian oligarch happened to invest in Trump owned or branded properties. This, of course, stands in stark contrast to the public image that Trump created of being a hands-on businessman who was well aware of what was happening at virtually every level of his vast empire of holdings. Notwithstanding that claim on Trump’s part, it’s been rumored and reported for years that Trump had been forced to rely on loans that were at least partly backed by Russian banks in the early 90s when his personal and business finances were particularly strained thanks to a string of business bankruptcies and other financial setbacks.

It was well-known, for example, that Deutsche Bank had become one of the few major banks that were willing to underwrite Trump’s real estate deals as well as provide the financing he needed to reorganize his existing business and real estate ventures. Additionally, both Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, both of whom were already serving in high-ranking positions in their father’s business at this time, were quoted at the time as saying in an almost braggadocious manner that the real estate developer was getting a lot of money from Russian banking interests. Additionally, we know that Trump had an interest in building a tower in Moscow that dates back to the 1990s, that he openly pursued relationships with people close to Putin in an effort to get permission to hold the Miss Universe pageant there (which happened in 2013), and that he had at least signed a letter of intent to build in Moscow back in 2015 just months before he entered the race for President. Finally, several news outlets have reported that Trump has a long history with Russian banking interests, including banks owned by individuals known to be within the inner circle of Russian President Vladimir Putin, that raise serious questions about whether or not he has a conflict of interest regarding U.S. relations with Russia in general and Putin in particular. All of this is significant, of course, because the fact that Trump has publicly denied any ties to Russia could potentially make him vulnerable to outside influence if the opposite were true and Russian officials were to threaten, even obliquely, to reveal the truth.

Previously, President Trump has hinted that Mueller would be crossing a red line if he extended his investigation into the President’s personal and business finances. This occurred more explicitly during a July 19th interview with Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman, and Michael Schmidt of The New York Times during which Trump acknowledged that an investigation into his personal or business finances, or any of his family member’s finances could be considered a “red line” for him:

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. By the way, I would say, I don’t — I don’t — I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don’t make money from Russia. In fact, I put out a letter saying that I don’t make — from one of the most highly respected law firms, accounting firms. I don’t have buildings in Russia. They said I own buildings in Russia. I don’t. They said I made money from Russia. I don’t. It’s not my thing. I don’t, I don’t do that. Over the years, I’ve looked at maybe doing a deal in Russia, but I never did one. Other than I held the Miss Universe pageant there eight, nine years [crosstalk].

SCHMIDT: But if he was outside that lane, would that mean he’d have to go?

[crosstalk]

HABERMAN: Would you consider——

TRUMP: No, I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia. So I think if he wants to go, my finances are extremely good, my company is an unbelievably successful company. And actually, when I do my filings, peoples say, “Man.” People have no idea how successful this is. It’s a great company. But I don’t even think about the company anymore. I think about this. ‘Cause one thing, when you do this, companies seem very trivial. O.K.? I really mean that. They seem very trivial. But I have no income from Russia. I don’t do business with Russia. The gentleman that you mentioned, with his son, two nice people. But basically, they brought the Miss Universe pageant to Russia to open up, you know, one of their jobs. Perhaps the convention center where it was held. It was a nice evening, and I left. I left, you know, I left Moscow. It wasn’t Moscow, it was outside of Moscow.

HABERMAN: Would you fire Mueller if he went outside of certain parameters of what his charge is? [crosstalk]

SCHMIDT: What would you do?

[crosstalk]

TRUMP: I can’t, I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time that Mueller has arguably crossed the “red line” Trump spoke about in this interview. Back in December, it was reported that the Special Counsel had subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank regarding Trump’s financial dealings. At that point, some wondered whether this would cause Trump to try to take some action against Mueller, including going so far as to try to remove him from office. Nothing happened in that regard, of course, and it’s unclear what if anything will happen based on these latest reports. What is clear, though, is that Mueller is at least interested in Trump’s business dealings with Russia dating back to long before he became even a candidate for President. Whether that leads to anything, or whether it will spur Trump to lash out against Mueller in some way, is something we’ll have to wait and see.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Law and the Courts, Politicians, Russia Investigation, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    This will of course be welcomed by the Trumpaloons because as we all know, Trump has nothing to hide. Nope. Nothing to worry about here. As soon as Mueller sees all that innocence he’ll end the investigation and declare Trump the bestest, most amazing president ever! And then the Trumpaloons can hold a parade and tell all of us libtards how very, very wrong we were to suspect Dear Leader. Oh, it’ll be a triumph!




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  2. MarkedMan says:

    It should be noted that the branch of Deutsch Bank that has loaned Trump money is not the real estate arm. It is the personal finance arm. It has paid numerous fines over the years for helping clients launder money, including Russian clients. In fact, in January of 2017 they were fined $10B for helping Russian clients launder money.




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  3. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    While working for Trump, Manafort allegedly reportedly wondered how he could use his position to get financially “whole,” and offered to give private political briefings to a Russian billionaire who had recently sued him. That’s in Manafort’s emails.
    Does anyone really think Donny Dennison didn’t wonder the same thing? Seriously?
    I’m sure his tax returns would prove his innocence; that he wasn’t deeply in debt to Putin. He should show them to us.




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  4. Kathy says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there is evidence of some sort of crime, not necessarily collusion, in Trump’s empire. I also wouldn’t be surprised to find there’s a fall guy or seven to take the fall for Dear Leader.




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  5. michael reynolds says:

    @Kathy:
    I have no doubt they’ll find evidence of money-laundering and tax evasion. I also believe they’ll find proof that Trump was still trying to make deals with Russians and various Arabs while he was running, and even after he was elected. And I will not be surprised if they discover that Trump is using his office right now to try and squeeze cash from foreign sources.

    Have they subpoenaed Jared’s bankrupt sh!tshow of a company yet?

    It pleases me to think of the sheer unholy panic Captain Bonespurs and the rest of the crime family must be feeling right now.




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  6. Kathy says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Do you think he’ll wait until Saturday to perpetrate the massacre?




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  7. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Michael. Please. It’s Cadet Bone Spurs, not Captain Bone Spurs.




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  8. inhumans99 says:

    I wonder if this is the type of story we would normally read about late on a Friday evening and perhaps Mueller is speeding things up a bit due to some credible rumors that President Trump is getting ready to fire a ton of folks and put in place cronies/sycophants (like Bolton and Pruitt) who will ultimately fire Mueller.

    It looks like Mueller may be anticipating his impending termination and is putting this stuff out there so the ball is rolling (an object in motion stays in motion and all that jazz) and much harder to stop even if his replacement would like nothing better than to declare our President is a saint and shut down all the current investigations against this administration.

    This post may make it hard to believe I am not a tin foil hat guy, I am not…but fair enough if you think I am that guy.




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  9. MBunge says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Welp, I guess Trump might as well immediately resign. After all, you’ve been SO right about everything up to now.

    Mike




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  10. CSK says:

    @inhumans99:

    Yo can remove the tinfoil hat. There’s plenty of reasoned speculation that Trump is considering firing Sessions, replacing him with Pruitt, and ordering Pruitt to fire Mueller.




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  11. michael reynolds says:

    @MBunge:
    Yes, I have been.

    What have I said from Day 1? Money-laundering. I’ve probably written that 100 times here. Money-laundering. @Harvard has been saying the same thing. And now Manafort and Gates are charged with, what? Money-laundering. And Mueller is subpoenaing the Trump Org. because why? Money-laundering.

    You know what goes well with money-laundering? Tax evasion. Your white prophet is in hock to Russians, and they own his ass. But really, why argue? You and I both know the truth. You just lie about it. But you know, and JKB knows and even Bob the Arqhole knows.

    I’ll tell you something I know for fact: when it turns out I was right, you won’t be surprised.




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  12. CSK says:

    Vanessa Trump has filed for divorce against Donny Jr.

    Get out while the getting’s good.




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  13. michael reynolds says:

    @CSK:
    She needs to get that community property before it becomes Treasury property.




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  14. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Exactly.




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  15. DrDaveT says:

    @michael reynolds:

    This will of course be welcomed by the Trumpaloons because as we all know, Trump has nothing to hide.

    Nah, Trumpaloon ‘brains’ don’t work that way. “Nothing to hide” would be a statement about, you know, facts. The Donald doesn’t do facts. This is an attack on The Great White Dope, which must be denounced regardless of any so-called facts.




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  16. MBunge says:

    Guys, this is more serious than any of us thought. THEY GOT TO JEREMY CORBYN!!!

    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/mar/15/corbyn-defies-critics-calls-for-calm-over-russia-nerve-agent-attack

    All hope is lost! “Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! 40 years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes! The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!




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  17. grumpy realist says:

    @MBunge: Considering how Corbyn is now finding himself the target of a lot of hissing and booing in the U.K. because of his comments, I have no idea what you think your posting is proving.




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  18. michael reynolds says:

    @grumpy realist:
    I think he’s delirious. It must be exhausting keeping up with the sheer volume of lies. Trump’s took three different positions on Canadian trade within a few hours. Imagine having to try to justify each separate imbecility.




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  19. An Interested Party says:

    …I have no idea what you think your posting is proving.

    Well, considering the full contents of the article, I think it proves that he’s an idiot…as Corbyn “calls for calm” he still insists on action against Russia, namely, to go after the cash of the oligarchs that are in bed with Putin…so if Mbunge’s attempt was an effort to prove that the claims against Russia are overblown, he failed miserably…




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  20. Lounsbury says:

    @MBunge:
    You are pathetically using Corbyn,the actual old bolshy, as your pretext now?

    You’re a pathetic fool.




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  21. Tyrell says:

    Mueller is basically tying up some loose ends and giving his final report to Sessions and Trump before he looks into the “hangar gate” (Clinton – Lynch airport shenanigans) and the Clinton cash. But he might close up shop and turn it over to Sessions.
    Do not go to the CNN comedy show for news.




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  22. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @inhumans99:

    Sort of. Mueller’s team has been coordinating with Schneiderman’s office is what is essentially a parallel investigation at the NY state level pretty much from day one. Beyond that, these folks on his team are on loan from other areas of DOJ, quite a few of them from the Southern District.

    This means two things:

    1) That Schneiderman has everything that Mueller has, and;

    2) assuming no replacement were to be selected, which is probable, the members of his team would go back from whence they came, taking everything they know (and arguably the evidence they’ve collected as well) back with them.

    It boils down to: they’d have to fire a whole lot more people than Mueller to shut this down at the federal level, and there is a parallel investigation at the state level holding the same body of evidence which Trump can’t do anything about.

    I’ve said on here before that, if Trump intended to intervene to stop this thing, he should have done it long before now – before Mueller had the chance to coordinate with parallel sovereigns. That ship has long since sailed. People tend to think of Bob solely in the context of “He’s that FBI director guy”, which is a mistake. For the majority of his career, he was a federal prosecutor – frankly one of the best, most tenacious ones we’ve ever had. The optics, I suspect, required the selection of someone (rightly) seen as being incorruptible, but they also resulted in the selection of someone who was never going to conduct the type of wallpaper investigation (Nunes, anyone?) that this admin wanted.

    @Reynolds is correct about what we’ve both been saying from the outset – any investigation of Trump was always inexorably going to end up looking at his shady financing, and that only leads to one place – money laundering and the associated goodies that tend to be attached to it.

    The short version is this: if he does succeed in shutting down Bob, the investigation will immediately resurface in Albany – armed with the same evidence and arguably stronger criminal statutes. He simply waited too long to try to squash it.

    (There’s another discussion to be had there, regarding the potential impacts of the decision from an obstruction standpoint if Dems manage to retake Congress.)

    I’ll be completely frank: nobody who is as involved with corrupt / illegal activities as Trump is – and he is … – should ever have even considered running for the presidency.




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  23. Scott F. says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I’ll be completely frank: nobody who is as involved with corrupt / illegal activities as Trump is – and he is … – should ever have even considered running for the presidency.

    This is undoubtedly true, but Trump’s financial corruption obviously predates his run for the presidency and the guy has been in the public eye for decades. Any thoughts on why it took the particularly harsh spotlight of national office to get federal prosecutors to go after this guy?




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  24. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Scott F.:

    The really questionable stuff dates from about 2002. That having been said 1) they have finite resources, and 2) there is a lag between “criminal behavior” and “maybe we should investigate that smell”.

    You’re talking about complex financial transactions that don’t necessarily throw up red flags on their face. It’s not as glaring as “Gotti had some people whacked”, so it can take time for the need to investigate to even be realized. Even then, once it has been, it has to be weighed against every other thing that is competing for limited resources to be examined.

    That having been said, he was being looked into before now, at both the state and federal levels. Appointing Mueller didn’t instigate an investigation of Trump’s finances so much as it subsumed one. Let’s leave that one at that.

    I will say that I’m honestly sort of amazed that nobody really ever asked “Why was Bob’s first staff pick a relatively obscure financial crimes expert? What was the guy working on before now?” Bob signaled his intent from day one.




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  25. michael reynolds says:

    Motive, means and opportunity. This is the ‘motive’ portion. The desperate need for money is the answer to, “Why is Trump in Putin’s pocket and why would Putin want Trump elected?”




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