By Matthew Vadum
Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III is yet again expanding the scope of his off-the-rails investigation into the Left’s wacky Russian electoral collusion conspiracy theory by examining financial transactions even vaguely related to Russia involving President Trump’s businesses and those of his associates, Bloomberg News reports.
Honest observers recognize that with the election of Donald Trump, the longtime Russophiles of the morally flexible Left flipped on their traditional friends in Moscow faster than you can say Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact or Operation Barbarossa. Ignoring its own history of rampant seditious collaboration with Russia, the Left has now managed to convince many that any past or present connection a Republican has or had to Russia, however trivial, is somehow now retroactively evidence of treason against the United States.
There is still no evidence that Trump covered up a crime, or even that there was an underlying crime to be concealed but that hasn’t stopped the Left’s witch-hunt from growing and the goalposts from being shifted.
Remember that it was just a month ago as the bizarre collusion allegations got stuck in the mud that Mueller expanded his investigation to include allegations that Trump tried to obstruct justice by firing FBI Director James B. Comey on May 9. The claim is that Trump did this to end Comey’s investigation into National Security Advisor Mike Flynn’s ties to Russia. Of course, as Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz has pointed out repeatedly, the president has authority under the Constitution to fire the FBI director for any reason or no reason at all. Comey himself has freely acknowledged he served at the pleasure of the president.
That said, “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,” Bloomberg reported an anonymous source saying.
The report continues, elaborating that:
Mueller’s team is looking at the Trump SoHo hotel condominium development, which was a licensing deal with Bayrock Capital LLC. In 2010, the former finance director of Bayrock filed a lawsuit claiming the firm structured transactions in fraudulent ways to evade taxes. Bayrock was a key source of capital for Trump projects, including Trump SoHo.
The 2013 Miss Universe pageant is of interest because a prominent Moscow developer, Aras Agalarov, paid $20 million to bring the beauty spectacle there. About a third of that sum went to Trump in the form of a licensing fee, according to Forbes magazine. At the event, Trump met Herman Gref, chief executive of Russia’s biggest bank, Sberbank PJSC. Agalarov’s son, Emin, helped broker a meeting last year between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer [i.e. Natalia Veselnitskaya] who was said to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton and her campaign.
Another significant financial transaction involved a Palm Beach, Florida, estate Trump purchased in 2004 for $41 million, after its previous owner lost it in bankruptcy. In March of 2008, after the real-estate bubble had begun losing air, Russian fertilizer magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev bought the property for $95 million.
As part of their investigation, Mueller’s team has issued subpoenas to banks and filed requests for bank records to foreign lenders under mutual legal-assistance treaties, according to two of the people familiar with the matter.
In addition, a federal money-laundering probe of Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has reportedly been subsumed into the larger investigation headed by Mueller. Mueller’s office is also reportedly looking at Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s tenure as vice chairman of the Bank of Cyprus and at presidential advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s efforts to obtain financing for his family’s real estate investments.
Newt Gingrich said yesterday that Mueller “has so many conflicts of interest it’s almost an absurdity,” but all of this seems above-board to Bloomberg.
“The Justice Department’s May 17 order to Mueller,” the media outlet reports, “instructs him to investigate ‘any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign’ as well as ‘any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,’ suggesting a relatively broad mandate.”
Trump lawyer John Dowd disagrees. He said examining the president’s business dealings should be out-of-bounds for Mueller.
“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 told Bloomberg in an email.
Meanwhile, the Left is digging in its heels.
In a defamatory, overheated column, the buffoonish purveyor of partisan drivel Jonathan Chait claims:
New reports in the Washington Post and New York Times are clear signals that Trump is contemplating steps – firing Mueller or issuing mass pardons – that would seem to go beyond the pale. Except Trump’s entire career is beyond the pale, and in his time on the political stage, the unthinkable has become thinkable with regularity.
Chait pontificates that:
Trump’s actions are best understood in the context of the overwhelming likelihood he, his family members, and at least some of his associates are guilty of serious crimes. The investigation might not produce proof of criminal collusion with Russia’s illegal hacking of Democratic emails. (Though reasonable grounds for suspicion already exists in abundance.)
Except there is no “overwhelming likelihood” that Trump, his family members, or associates are “guilty of serious crimes,” at least not based on publicly available evidence. Chait is engaging in pure speculation precisely because there is no proof of wrongdoing.
Chait shrieks that Trump’s New York Times interview this week and other news reports citing unidentified sources are proof that the president is a threat to the republic. “The ominous threats emanating from the White House are an administration mobilizing for war against the rule of law,” he wrote.
But what did Trump actually tell the Old Gray Lady?
“I have done nothing wrong,” he said. “A special counsel should never have been appointed in this case.”
One interviewer asked the president, “Last thing, if Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia, is that a red line?” Another then chimed in with, “Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?”
Trump responded, probably correctly, with “I would say yeah. I would say yes.”
“Would you fire Mueller if he went outside of certain parameters of what his charge is?” an interviewer asked.
“I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen,” Trump replied.
It is horrifying to Chait that Trump is daring to defend himself in an interview.
Then there is that anonymously-sourced Washington Post article that claims Trump is considering firing Mueller and issuing mass-pardons – kind of like when Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) unilaterally re-enfranchised felons by the hundreds of thousands to help Hillary Clinton during the last election cycle – in order to put himself and those close to him above the law.
It’s the kind of juicy, implausible story that the “Democracy Dies in Darkness” crowd has been known for since Trump was elected. The claim that the president’s legal team is examining the backgrounds of Team Mueller – as these attorneys are perfectly entitled to do – is much more plausible, though, according to Chait, such actions mark Trump as a budding dictator.
As left-wingers like Chait see it, the president isn’t allowed to defend himself from scurrilous, malicious allegations when he’s a Republican.
Confusing matters is the fact that the straight-shooting president delivered an extraordinarily unusual public flogging of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, upbraiding him behind enemy lines in the New York Times interview. Trump said it was a mistake for Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia probe and that he may not have nominated him for the post if he had known beforehand that the attorney general would make the recusal decision.
It is true that with the benefit of hindsight, Sessions’ recusal, hailed at the time by the media and the rest of the Left as a noble, unifying gesture after a very, very nasty, hard-fought election, now looks boneheaded. Sessions is a good man and an outstanding public servant but he may have been in too much of a hurry to be liked by the Washington swamp. Appointing a special counsel calmed the Left down only briefly. Appeasing the radicals of today’s Democratic Party doesn’t work.
Although the unusual rebuke of Sessions may suggest the former Alabama senator’s days at the Justice Department may be numbered, White House Deputy Press
Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday the president “still has confidence” in Sessions despite the high-profile criticism.
“As he said yesterday, he was disappointed in Attorney General Sessions’ decision to recuse himself, but clearly he has confidence in him or he would not be the attorney general,” she said. Sessions said at a presser the same day that he planned to stay at his post for as long as “appropriate.”
The public relations debacle that was the Times interview was barely noticed by much of the mainstream media as news that the far-from-humbled-sociopath O.J. Simpson was paroled in Nevada sucked up much of the available media oxygen.
Some observers think Trump is setting the stage for firing Mueller, or at least finding a way to clip his wings a bit.
In a post at NRO titled, “Yeah, Trump Is Probably Going to Fire Robert Mueller,” Rich Lowry called Trump’s comments “a wholly gratuitous slap” at Sessions. “The 3-D-chess theory of the interview would be that Trump is trying to force Sessions out in favor of a non-recused attorney general who can rein in Mueller,” he wrote.
President Trump is right to be concerned. Mueller’s investigation increasingly resembles a massive anti-Trump fishing expedition.
The problem here is the special counsel system, Charles Krauthammer told Tucker Carlson on Fox News Channel last night. “Their mandates are essentially unlimited.”
He’s right. Independent prosecutors just keep digging until somebody stops them. Justice is rarely achieved, or even sought. Their purpose is to vex and harass for political purposes, so in that sense, Special Counsel Mueller is right on-track.
And Mueller is the Washington swamp’s best hope to oust the 45th president.