Just yesterday, President Donald Trump told a trio of New York Times reporters that if special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation turned to his finances, he’d view it as a “violation” of Mueller’s charge. “This is about Russia,” Trump said.
But according to a new report by Bloomberg’s Greg Farrell and Christian Berthelsen, investigators had already been investigating several Trump business transactions with Russians.
The Bloomberg reporters quote “a person familiar with the probe” as confirming that several transactions in particular have piqued investigators’ interest, including:
- The 2013 Miss Universe pageant, which was held in Moscow
- A Trump business deal with Russian associates for a condo development in SoHo
- Trump’s sale of a Florida estate to a wealthy Russian back in 2008
Importantly, this has been in the works for a while — the Bloomberg report said it spiraled out of an old investigation into money laundering by former US Attorney Preet Bharara (whom Trump fired in March). Trump’s interview with the Times had nothing to do with it.
But the news of this aspect of the investigation has only added to speculation in Washington that Trump could fire Mueller — an action that, if carried out, would mean a crisis over the rule of law in the United States.
And John Dowd, one of Trump’s lawyers, complained to Bloomberg that “those transactions are in my view well beyond the mandate of the special counsel.”
Trump’s statement about Mueller, in context
Trump’s statements to the Times about Mueller didn’t seem intended as a preplanned threat, but rather as something the president sort of stumbled into.
But though it may have been unplanned, it is of a piece with Trump’s repeated attempts to delegitimize the investigation, and his general lack of respect for the rule of law.
The question, and the framing of it, was brought up by Times reporters Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman at the very end of the very long interview, and Trump’s supposed threats were interspersed with long digressions on other matters:
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.
Trump then followed up with a rambling denial that he had any significant business interests in Russia, and the reporters followed up:
SCHMIDT: But if he was outside that lane, would that mean he’d have to go?
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.
Trump followed this up with another disjointed tangent about how good his company is and again how he doesn’t do much business in Russia. Then the Times pushed one more time:
HABERMAN: Would you fire Mueller if he went outside of certain parameters of what his charge is?
SCHMIDT: What would you do?
TRUMP: I can’t, I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.
Apparently, it has happened. And now Trump will decide what to do next.