Robert Mueller (Getty/Alex Wong)

CNN asks if Robert Mueller crossed a “red line” by looking at the Trump Organization

Is the DOJ’s Russia investigation ramping up or winding down by seeking documents from the president’s business?


Matthew Sheffield
March 16, 2018 6:01PM (UTC)

The news that Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller has begun requesting documents concerning Donald Trump's former business dealings with Russians has set off all kinds of speculation that Mueller's investigation may be getting closer to putting the president in its sights, but that's not necessarily true.

After breaking the story of Mueller's subpoenas to the Trump Organization, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman appeared on CNN Friday morning to discuss what could be happening.

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"It's important to stress what we don't know," Haberman said. "One of the things that Mueller's team is looking at is this Trump Tower Moscow project that his former counsel, Michael Cohen, had been looking into developing."

It's possible that such inquiries could simply be the last phases of the investigation, Haberman noted, but they could also indicate that Mueller is expanding his scope.

"We don't know where that leads, but it does not lead to a place away from the president," she said.

Speaking last July with Haberman and her Times colleague Michael Schmidt, Trump seemed to indicate some discomfort with the idea of Mueller's team looking at his personal finances.

"I would say yeah, I would say yes," the president replied, when he was asked if he thought probing into his family's finances would be a "red line."

While some people have regarded Trump's remark as a warning signal to Mueller, that isn't necessarily true, as "New Day" host Alisyn Camerota noted. In his Times interview, the chief executive seemed to respond tentatively to the topic:

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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.

In January, the Times ran a story claiming that Trump had ordered Mueller to be fired last June but was rebuffed by White House Counsel Don McGahn. While the story was confirmed by The Washington Post, there still is no clarity as to whether Trump had asked about the possibility of terminating Mueller or ordered for it to happen.

The president did fire FBI Director James Comey last May and then forced his staff to falsely claim that it was because of the former official's treatment of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign. Comey's sacking provoked outrage among congressional Democrats and Republicans, which subsequently led to the hiring of Mueller, a former FBI director.

Several congressional Republicans have been quietly warning Trump not to fire Mueller, even as conservative partisan media and several far-right GOPers have been calling for his dismissal for months.

“We should allow Director Mueller to continue to do his job,” Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, head of the GOP's Senate campaign organization, told Mother Jones in December. “He should not be fired.”

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Matthew Sheffield

A writer, web developer, and former tv producer, Matthew Sheffield covers politics, media, and technology for Salon. You can email him via m.sheffield@salon.com or follow him on Twitter.

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