Yes, the God-King is under investigation, the Washington Post reports…. (More)

“More than just a ‘he said, he said’ dispute”

The Post story is a metaphorical bombshell:

The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said.

The move by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate Trump’s conduct marks a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Investigators have also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said.

The God-King’s consigliore did not deny the report, but instead tried to change the subject:

The White House now refers all questions about the Russia investigation to Trump’s personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz.

“The FBI leak of information regarding the president is outrageous, inexcusable and illegal,” said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Kasowitz.

But I’m sure Kasowitz was just fine with New York City FBI agents running to Fox News every half-hour last year with breathless (and ultimately groundless) leaks about Hillary Clinton.

Regardless, this is serious:

The obstruction-of-justice investigation of the president began days after Comey was fired on May 9, according to people familiar with the matter. Mueller’s office has taken up that work, and the preliminary interviews scheduled with intelligence officials indicate that his team is actively pursuing potential witnesses inside and outside the government.

The interviews suggest that Mueller sees the question of attempted obstruction of justice as more than just a “he said, he said” dispute between the president and the fired FBI director, an official said.

It’s more like “he (Comey) said, because he (the God-King) admitted,” as TPM’s Josh Marshall explains:

Reading through this article, contemplating that the President less than five months in office is already being investigated for obstruction of justice, what is so mind-boggling is that the case isn’t even really a he said, he said dispute. How do we know the President fired Comey because of the Russia investigation? He said so on national television! And he said something similar the day before, on May 10th, only this time in a private setting.

On May 19th, the Times reported a White House memorandum summarizing Sergei Lavrov’s meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office. In that meeting President Trump said “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

This meeting was on May 10th, the day after Comey’s dismissal. The memorandum was likely written later that day. In other words, almost immediately after firing Comey, within the following two days, President Trump made at least two statements in which he essentially admitted or more like boasted about firing Comey with the specific goal of impeding or ending the Russia probe. There are various and highly significant complexities tied to the unique role of the President. He is the only person in the country who can, arguably, obstruct an investigation by exercising his statutory right to fire a members of the executive branch. But on its face, this is essentially admitting to obstruction.

Umm, yeah.

Prior Inconsistent Statement, please pick up the white courtesy phone

If the God-King tries to deny what he told Lavrov or especially Holt, he’ll run face-first into the Federal Rules of Evidence Rule 613 – Prior Inconsistent Statements:

(a) Showing or Disclosing the Statement During Examination. When examining a witness about the witness’s prior statement, a party need not show it or disclose its contents to the witness. But the party must, on request, show it or disclose its contents to an adverse party’s attorney.

(b) Extrinsic Evidence of a Prior Inconsistent Statement. Extrinsic evidence of a witness’s prior inconsistent statement is admissible only if the witness is given an opportunity to explain or deny the statement and an adverse party is given an opportunity to examine the witness about it, or if justice so requires. This subdivision (b) does not apply to an opposing party’s statement under Rule 801(d)(2).

He might get away with denying the statement to Lavrov, unless there’s a recording or the witness who overhead it is ready to come unto court. But the interview with Holt was recorded and broadcast on network TV, and the God-King did not deny or object the presentation of his comments when the interview was broadcast. And while the interview was not given under oath, it may still be admissible if he tries to change his story in sworn testimony later.

So yes, he’s pretty much hoist on his own petard.

“Any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates”

Perhaps more dangerous than obstruction charges for the God-King and his cronies, the Post reported that Mueller’s investigation has now swept in preexisting probes of financial irregularities. Again, Josh Marshall explains:

The one additional part of the WaPo article is broad and vague but in its own way represents the most peril for the President and his entourage. At one point the article reads: “Mueller is overseeing a host of investigations involving people who are or were in Trump’s orbit, people familiar with the probe said. The investigation is examining possible contacts with Russian operatives as well as any suspicious financial activity related to those individuals.” Earlier in the piece, there’s this: “Investigators have also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said.”

The seeming multiplicity of investigations speaks for itself. But it is the repeated reference to “financial crimes” or “suspicious financial activity” that grabs my attention.

Experts will tell you that “financial crimes” can often mean technical infractions, ways of structuring or organizing movements of money, failures to disclose, certain actions that are prima facie evidence of efforts to conceal, etc. This doesn’t mean these are just ‘technicalities’ in the colloquial sense. They are rather infractions the nature of which may be hard for a layperson to understand but which often end up snaring defendants when other crimes are too difficult to prove. But here’s the thing about the Trump world. I don’t have subpoena power. And we’ve yet to assign a reporting crew to the Trump entourage beat full time. But even with my own limited reporting, it is quite clear to me that there are numerous people in Trump’s entourage (or ‘crew’, if you will) including Trump himself whose history and ways of doing business would not survive first contact with real legal scrutiny. It sounds like Mueller sees all of that within his purview, in all likelihood because the far-flung business dealings of Trump and his top associates are the membrane across which collusion and quid pro quos could have been conducted.

Comey alluded to this in his testimony last week, in response to a question about whether an investigation of one crime may ultimately lead to prosecution for a different crime. Comey agreed that once investigators “start to turn over rocks,” anything they find is fair game for prosecutors.

The reporting so far suggests that at least one and perhaps several FBI field offices, and perhaps other agencies, has been investigating money-laundering by or for Russian criminal organizations, including through Trump-owned businesses. And the New York Times reports that those investigations are now under Mueller’s direction:

A former senior official said Mr. Mueller’s investigation was looking at money laundering by Trump associates. The suspicion is that any cooperation with Russian officials would most likely have been in exchange for some kind of financial payoff, and that there would have been an effort to hide the payments, probably by routing them through offshore banking centers.

In looking for that, of course, Mueller may find evidence of other financial crimes … and all of it would be fair game.

“Full independence”

And lest the God-King think he’ll just fire Mueller and get it over with, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified last week that the God-King doesn’t have legal authority to do that:

Republican lawmakers have expressed concern over the possibility of the special counsel’s firing. “It would be a disaster,” said South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham Monday. “There’s no reason to fire Mueller. What’s he done to be fired?” On Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan also weighed in, saying in an interview that Trump “should let Bob Mueller do his job, do his job independently, and do his job quickly, because I think that that’s what he would want to have happen.”

Because Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, Rosenstein has the authority fire Mueller. Trump could order Rosenstein to fire Mueller, though, per regulations, Mueller could only be removed “for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies.” The deputy attorney general assured lawmakers, however, that he’s confident Mueller has “full independence.”

“I am required to put that cause in writing,” Rosenstein told lawmakers. “If there were good cause, I would consider it. If there were not good cause, it wouldn’t matter to me what anybody says.”

And firing Rosenstein in order to find someone who would fire Mueller … could become yet another hoist-upon petard, as Vox’s Andrew Prokop explains:

So if Trump truly does want Mueller gone, he’d likely have to get rid of Rosenstein too. That is something he could do, in what would be a clear sequel to Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre.” (In October 1973, Nixon ordered the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate break-ins fired, and the attorney general and deputy attorney general resigned in protest rather than carry out his order.)

Considering it was the firing of Comey that got him under investigation in the first place, one would think that if President Trump truly does believe he’s innocent, he’d refrain from repeating that mistake with Mueller and worsening his political and legal troubles yet further. One would think.

So if you hear little tippity-tapping today, please don’t be alarmed. It’s just your humble squirrel doing a happy dance….

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Photo Credit: Larry Downing (Reuters)

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Good day and good nuts