The big news today is the Washington Post's Tuesday night report revealing that Robert Mueller was not a happy prosecutor when Attorney General Bill Barr wrote that four-page PR document. Mueller wrote his own letter to Barr and then spoke with him on the phone in the days after, complaining that Barr's summary “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the special counsel's work.
According to DOJ veterans, this was a very big deal:
This uproar will likely last for a few news cycles, which probably has President Trump quite relieved. He's happy to have the Congress battle the Justice Department instead of focusing on the problem that's really keeping him up at night. That would be the numerous congressional inquiries into Trump's personal and business finances. I think he'd rather be impeached for betraying the country than have his books opened up to the public.
He's got his hands full. The House Ways and Means Committee is chasing his tax returns. The Financial Services and Intelligence Committees have subpoenaed his banking records. The U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District of New York is looking into inauguration fund irregularities, and that campaign finance case with Trump named as "Individual 1" is still out there. New York State regulators and Attorney General Letitia James have opened investigations into possible bank and insurance fraud by the Trump Organization. And two separate cases involving Trump's alleged violation of the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution are currently wending their way through the courts, one of which passed a big hurdle on Tuesday.
There are also 14 unknown investigations that were referred by Mueller's team to other jurisdictions. Trump's loyal consigliere William Barr will likely have filled him in on those, but unless the DOJ is actually dropping them, he has to be worried. Any federal investigation involving him will likely look into his finances. And as we have all heard, that is the president's "red line," which for some reason he believes he has a right to draw.
Trump seems to deeply confused about the separation of powers, complaining that the Democratic House majority isn't "impartial" and is just trying to win the 2020 election, which apparently means he needn't cooperate with their requests. This stuff is known as "politics," a profession he probably should have thought twice about entering if he didn't want anyone looking into his finances, particularly since he refuses to divest himself of his companies and spends most of his weekends as president promoting them.
The New York Times' deep dive into the Trump family's systematic tax fraud over the course of many decades should certainly be enough to justify the release of Trump's tax returns. If laws need to be changed to prevent such activity, the Congress has every right to see them as do the American people.
As the ongoing investigations by ProPublica and WNYC have shown in their "Trump, Inc." podcast series, the ground is incredibly fertile for investigations into the business. The Trump Organization has been a cesspool of fraudulent activity for decades. (The piece about the branded development projects in which Donald and Ivanka Trump lied to buyers and falsified documents to banks is mind-boggling all on its own.)
Trump's been stonewalling all the congressional requests, refusing to hand over documents and instructing the various federal agencies not to cooperate. The administration has said it will fight subpoenas and contempt citations in court and the Justice Department is apparently willing to fight for Trump's right to do whatever he wants. This week, he took the extraordinary step of suing the banks that have been subpoenaed by the Financial Services and Intelligence committees, which are looking into possible compromise and conflicts of interest involving the Trump Organization and various foreign governments and domestic businesses.
From what most legal observers say, the lawsuit is almost comically absurd:
The suit claims the Congress is harassing his children, Donald Jr,, Eric and Ivanka, neglecting to note that all three are executives in the Trump Organization and Ivanka is a senior adviser to the president. His lawyers, as usual, are anything but professional.
Trump likes to sue, we know that. He learned to do it at the knee of his mentor, Roy Cohn, who, according to journalist Marie Brenner, derived his power "largely from his ability to scare potential adversaries with hollow threats and spurious lawsuits." Brenner writes that the two men originally bonded over an early case of Trump bigotry:
As Donald Trump would later tell the story, he ran into Cohn for the first time at Le Club, a members-only nightspot in Manhattan’s East 50s, where models and fashionistas and Eurotrash went to be seen. “The government has just filed suit against our company,” Trump explained, “saying that we discriminated against blacks . ... What do you think I should do?”
“Tell them to go to hell and fight the thing in court and let them prove you discriminated,” Cohn shot back. The Trumps would soon retain Cohn to represent them.
Cohn went on to teach Trump everything he knew.
Whether or not the president will prevail in this ridiculous lawsuit is unknown. But it's entirely conceivable he will be able to delay the release of his financial records until after the 2020 election. Trump had better hope so anyway, because Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chair of the House Intelligence Committee, just announced the hire of a heavy hitter, Patrick Fallon, former chief of the FBI’s financial crimes section, according to two sources familiar with the move. What that indicates is that the Intelligence Committee plans to look closely at Trump's foreign business deals.
Mueller's investigation hewed closely to a mandate pertaining to criminal conduct and Russian interference during the 2016 election. His report mentions the Trump Tower Moscow project as a potential point of leverage. But there is so much more that goes back years and points to a strong suspicion of money-laundering. Trump has brushed off the charge in the past, saying simply that he may have sold some condos to Russian buyers. He certainly did, and at least some of those sales are highly suspicious. By all accounts, if anyone can untangle the details of those transactions, it would be Fallon.
For the first two years of his presidency, Trump was under scrutiny by a tight-lipped prosecutor with a narrow mandate. Now he's dealing with at least a half-dozen congressional probes happening in the middle of his re-election campaign, run by people who like the cameras just as much as he does. He may soon find himself wishing for the good old days of the Mueller "Witch Hunt."