Justice ok’d subpoena threat; Trump finances not on Mueller’s list
Trump has incorrectly asserted that the Mueller questions leaked to the New York Times by his lawyers deal only with "false" charges of obstruction of justice. The questions deal with obstruction of justice and collusion. | Evan Vucci/AP

The last two days have seen explosive developments in the probe of Special Counsel Robert Mueller into the affairs of President Trump and those around him.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that in March Mueller told Trump’s lawyers that he had the power to subpoena Trump if the president did not submit to an interview. Mueller met with the Trump lawyers, and, in a tense discussion, they told Mueller that the president had no legal obligation to agree to a meeting with him, something Mueller had been trying to set up for months.

“This isn’t some game,” John Dowd, Trump’s lead attorney at the time, told Mueller. Dowd has confirmed the remarks and the tense session in comments to Reuters. It was after he made that remark that Mueller issued the threat.

Joyce Vance, a former federal prosecutor, said on MSNBC last night that Mueller could not have issued that threat unless he had pre-approval of the subpoena from Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the investigation because Attorney General Jeff Sessions is recused.

A day earlier, on Monday, the New York Times published a list of questions Mueller wants to ask Trump. The Times did not name the source who passed it the list, saying only that the source was not a current member of President Trump’s legal team. Trump, angry that the questions go beyond the realm of what he considers within the purview of the special counsel, ranted in his daily tweets against the “leakers” he claimed were on the Mueller team.

It turned out that the list was actually compiled by Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow after he heard the concerns of Mueller. John Dowd, obviously worried about where Mueller was going with the investigation, resigned from Trump’s legal team right after the March meeting with Mueller.

Many of the open-ended questions on the list released by the Times are designed to elicit information on presidential efforts to obstruct justice, particularly through the dismissal of FBI Director James Comey and the president’s attempts to fire the special counsel himself.

Contrary to Trump claims that the questions deal only with obstruction of justice, however, many of the queries do deal with collusion. They ask, for example, about the famous Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives.

People supportive of the Mueller probe into Trump affairs have raised concern, however, about what is not on the released list of Mueller questions.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the lead Democrat on the House committee that investigated the president, said after the Times released the questions on Monday that he was “struck” by what was not on the list and that he hoped Mueller was not observing any “red lines” laid down by the president that might have put some questions out of bounds. Schiff declared on national television Monday night:

“I want the special counsel to be looking into the issue of money laundering. I don’t recall seeing any questions about that…. What was not on the list to me was also striking.”

A key question of course is the extent to which Trump has obtained financing of his projects from Russian individuals, especially oligarchs, gangsters, and others involved in international crimes.

Also important are Trump’s relations with financial sources in Russia, including banks under sanction for illegal money laundering and, again, gangsters and oligarchs. The questions released don’t deal with these concerns either.

There is evidence too that these unsavory sources, again including banks such as Deutsche Bank, have laundered money through Trump properties, including properties in the U.S. There are no questions on the list that address these issues.

There is also the matter that some of the shady individuals and institutions that have popped up in the course of these inquiries may have guaranteed huge loans for Trump, putting the president in hock to powerful oligarchs and, again, gangsters.

“Does this mean that the special counsel is observing the red line the president has tried to draw?” Schiff asked. “In my view, the president is not permitted to draw a red line and anything that can impact on national security needs to be in the realm of what he can investigate.”

Beyond even what Schiff raised are concerns that have to do with the formulation of foreign policy in exchange for financial favors to Trump and his family. Qatar, for example, refused requests from Trump’s son-in-law for loans of hundreds of millions of dollars. After the refusal, Trump attacked Qatar, which had previously been allied to the U.S., and sided with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in their attacks on the country.

When the United Arab Emirates extended huge financial favors to the Trump family, he backed their attacks on Yemen which thus far have resulted in tens of thousands of deaths there. These “pay for play” matters are also not on the list of questions released by the Times.

The right wing, meanwhile, has shown, over the last two days, its intention to destroy the Mueller investigation. Members of the Freedom Caucus say they have drawn up articles of impeachment against Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general supervising Mueller. It should not be seen as at all coincidental that the Trump legal team might leak the questions to the New York Times, claiming they cross Trump’s red line, and that, at the same time the Freedom Caucus launched its attack on Rosenstein.

Rosenstein responded in uncharacteristically bold fashion on national television, however, that he and the Justice Department will not be bullied into violating their oaths “to defend and protect the constitution of the United States.”

All these matters continue to motivate many in Congress, Schiff included, to call for—in addition to a special counsel—an independent prosecutor not beholden to any government department and who can’t be fired by the White House. That’s something this paper has been advocating for quite some time.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.