The God-King is preparing to wage war on the rule of law…. (More)
“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself’”
Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.
Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.
Trump’s legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.
“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’” a close adviser said.
Which says to me, this is in the context of ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself.’
Seriously, though, if he pulls anything like this, he will have to be impeached. We cannot endure a president so contemptuous of the law, and of normal legal procedures. Congressional Republicans had better make this very clear, right now.
Trump’s actions are best understood in the context of the overwhelming likelihood he, his family members, and at least some of his associates are guilty of serious crimes. The investigation might not produce proof of criminal collusion with Russia’s illegal hacking of Democratic emails. (Though reasonable grounds for suspicion already exists in abundance.)
Trump’s team is not merely warning Mueller to stay away from random, unrelated transactions. He is specifically holding up Trump’s financial dealings with Russians as out of bounds: “They’re talking about real estate transactions in Palm Beach several years ago,” Sekulow tells the Post. “In our view, this is far outside the scope of a legitimate investigation.”
The Palm Beach transaction is a source of longtime suspicion. Trump purchased a property for $41 million and then, after improving it, sold it just two years later to a Russian oligarch for more than twice as much. This is a completely natural area for investigation. If the Kremlin wanted to finance Trump, overpaying for a property would be an obvious way to do so.
Mueller is also investigating other Trump financial transactions. Trump’s opaque business dealings include a lot of shady figures, including members of the Russian mafia. Why has Trump adamantly refused to disclose his tax returns, even at a significant cost to himself? And why does he appear so terrified at Mueller looking under these rocks? The simplest explanation is that he is probably hiding something deeply incriminating.
Simply, it’s likely that the God-King’s coziness with Vladimir Putin and Russia is motivated by deep financial ties … including some financial crimes.
“They saved his bacon”
In 1984, a Russian émigré named David Bogatin went shopping for apartments in New York City. The 38-year-old had arrived in America seven years before, with just $3 in his pocket. But for a former pilot in the Soviet Army – his specialty had been shooting down Americans over North Vietnam – he had clearly done quite well for himself. Bogatin wasn’t hunting for a place in Brighton Beach, the Brooklyn enclave known as “Little Odessa” for its large population of immigrants from the Soviet Union. Instead, he was fixated on the glitziest apartment building on Fifth Avenue, a gaudy, 58-story edifice with gold-plated fixtures and a pink-marble atrium: Trump Tower.
A monument to celebrity and conspicuous consumption, the tower was home to the likes of Johnny Carson, Steven Spielberg, and Sophia Loren. Its brash, 38-year-old developer was something of a tabloid celebrity himself. Donald Trump was just coming into his own as a serious player in Manhattan real estate, and Trump Tower was the crown jewel of his growing empire. From the day it opened, the building was a hit—all but a few dozen of its 263 units had sold in the first few months. But Bogatin wasn’t deterred by the limited availability or the sky-high prices. The Russian plunked down $6 million to buy not one or two, but five luxury condos. The big check apparently caught the attention of the owner. According to Wayne Barrett, who investigated the deal for the Village Voice, Trump personally attended the closing, along with Bogatin.
If the transaction seemed suspicious – multiple apartments for a single buyer who appeared to have no legitimate way to put his hands on that much money – there may have been a reason. At the time, Russian mobsters were beginning to invest in high-end real estate, which offered an ideal vehicle to launder money from their criminal enterprises. “During the ’80s and ’90s, we in the U.S. government repeatedly saw a pattern by which criminals would use condos and high-rises to launder money,” says Jonathan Winer, a deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement in the Clinton administration. “It didn’t matter that you paid too much, because the real estate values would rise, and it was a way of turning dirty money into clean money. It was done very systematically, and it explained why there are so many high-rises where the units were sold but no one is living in them.” When Trump Tower was built, as David Cay Johnston reports in The Making of Donald Trump, it was only the second high-rise in New York that accepted anonymous buyers.
A review of the public record reveals a clear and disturbing pattern: Trump owes much of his business success, and by extension his presidency, to a flow of highly suspicious money from Russia. Over the past three decades, at least 13 people with known or alleged links to Russian mobsters or oligarchs have owned, lived in, and even run criminal activities out of Trump Tower and other Trump properties. Many used his apartments and casinos to launder untold millions in dirty money. Some ran a worldwide high-stakes gambling ring out of Trump Tower – in a unit directly below one owned by Trump. Others provided Trump with lucrative branding deals that required no investment on his part. Taken together, the flow of money from Russia provided Trump with a crucial infusion of financing that helped rescue his empire from ruin, burnish his image, and launch his career in television and politics. “They saved his bacon,” says Kenneth McCallion, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Reagan administration who investigated ties between organized crime and Trump’s developments in the 1980s.
And via Talking Points Memo, the Wall Street Journal reports that Mueller is investigating money-laundering by Paul Manafort:
The special counsel and congressional committees investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election are looking into possible money laundering by President Donald Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort, the Wall Street Journal reported late Thursday.
The Wall Street Journal reported, citing a single unnamed source familiar with the matter, that special counsel Robert Mueller, who is overseeing the federal probe into Russian meddling, began an inquiry several weeks ago into possible money laundering by Manafort.
The New York Times reported Wednesday, citing financial records filed in Cyprus in 2016, that Manafort owed as much as $17 million to pro-Russia interests before he joined Trump’s campaign, where he requested no salary in his capacity as chairman.
NBC News reported in March that Manafort closed several accounts with a bank in Cyprus after it launched an internal investigation into potential money laundering.
In short, there’s no reason for Mueller to pretend this case began last spring when Russian intelligence hacked into Democrats’ emails, and I don’t expect Mueller will accept that limit.
“That’s so far out of bounds it couldn’t possibly be a serious discussion”
President Trump’s lawyers and aides are scouring the professional and political backgrounds of investigators hired by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, looking for conflicts of interest they could use to discredit the investigation — or even build a case to fire Mr. Mueller or get some members of his team recused, according to three people with knowledge of the research effort.
The search for potential conflicts is wide-ranging. It includes scrutinizing donations to Democratic candidates, investigators’ past clients and Mr. Mueller’s relationship with James B. Comey, whose firing as F.B.I. director is part of the special counsel’s investigation.
Trump seems to be treating this whole thing like a mob war. And maybe he’s right to do so. It just makes you wonder what he knows that we don’t.
Maybe. Or maybe that’s simply how the God-King has always handled legal challenges, and he thinks he can bully his way through again. That will depend on whether Senate and House Republicans stand up to him, and Bloomberg’s Justin Sink and Steven Dennis see some room for hope:
Mueller’s investigation has expanded to examine a broad range of transactions involving the president’s businesses, including dealings by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a person familiar with the probe told Bloomberg News. Trump told the Times that if Mueller examined his family’s finances beyond any relationship with Russia he’d consider it “a violation.”
“There is no possible way anybody at the White House could be seriously thinking about firing Mueller,” said Senate Bob Corker of Tennessee, a Republican. “I don’t even want to comment on that because that’s so far out of bounds it couldn’t possibly be a serious discussion.”
Across town, the Trump interview and the larger controversy over the Russia investigation was palpable in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing during which the panel unanimously advanced Comey’s replacement, Christopher Wray.
“Now what happens next?” said Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. “Will the president move again to try and dismiss Mr. Mueller, the special counsel? Will he do his best to try and end the investigation of the FBI? Will Attorney General Sessions be complicit if he moves in that direction?
“We don’t know the answers to those questions but I would tell you that we’re on the footsteps, doorstep I should say, of a constitutional crisis in this country.”
I’d like to think Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan would warn the God-King that they won’t tolerate him firing Mueller and/or issuing preemptive pardons. Indeed they should announce that immediately, and publicly, so he knows there are indeed lines he cannot cross.
Instead, they’ll probably mumble something about having to weigh the circumstances if and when that happens, or simply take Sen. Corker’s dodge of pretending the God-King couldn’t be considering what he is, clearly, considering. And if so, the God-King will take their refusals to say “No!” as a green light.
Then we’ll all find out if we still live under the rule of law … or under the reign of the God-King.
Image Credit: Crissie Brown (BPICampus.com)
Good day and good nuts