Of course, follow the money
Business ties are the first place to look
Investigations that do not “follow the money” generally do not get very far. This is absolutely true of collusion investigations. Without a paper trail, such an investigation has nothing to follow and nowhere to go.
In light of that, the president’s brutal comments about Attorney General Jeff Sessions are not the most revealing things he said in his interview with the New York Times on Wednesday. The Times released a recording available with a transcript at https://www. nytimes.com/2017/07/19/us/politics/trumpinterview-transcript.html.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is leading an investigation into Russian efforts to undermine the 2016 presidential election. A part of that investigation is whether the president, close associates of his or both have any connection with those efforts. In Wednesday’s interview, the president was asked: “Last thing, if Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia — is that a red line? Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?” “Charge,” in context, referred to the proper scope of Mueller’s investigation.
The president’s answer was: “I would say yeah. I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don’t — I don’t — I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don’t make money from Russia.”
Mueller is not investigating whether businesses owned by the president or his family “make money from Russia.” Mueller is investigating whether those businesses have a relationship with Russians and if those relationships go beyond business.
Beyond that, the president arguing that his family’s businesses are not a proper field for this investigation makes no sense. He argues this mere days after his own son and his son-in-law, along with his presidential campaign manager, landed in hot water over disclosure of a June meeting with a room full of Russians. That meeting was requested and arranged by a business acquaintance of the family.
Wednesday’s interview also asked: “Would you fire Mueller if he went outside of certain parameters of what his charge is? What would you do?” The president answered: “I can’t, I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.” It was already happening. Within hours of the Times interview coming out, other news outlets reported that Mueller’s team has been making inquiries about the president’s businesses and those of family members. It is inconceivable that the president did not already know that Mueller’s team was making inquiries about family business when the Times interviewed him.
Much is made about how the president would not rule out shutting down Mueller’s investigation. The president cannot shut down Mueller directly. Mueller reports to the acting attorney general on this matter, Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein is the deputy for Sessions, who recused himself from the Russia matter because of his conflicts of interest. This decision to recuse earned that truly remarkable degree of scorn for Sessions from the president in Wednesday’s interview.
“Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” the president told the Times
“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” he added. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”
Trump can fire Sessions. But he already unleashed a firestorm by firing the previous head of the collusion investigation, FBI director James Comey. So he just gave Sessions a humiliating tongue-lashing instead.
I disagree with those who have called on Sessions to quit. The attorney general should make the president fire him. Sessions may not be able to protect Rosenstein and Mueller, but Sessions is a cabinet member and a recent alumnus of the U.S. Senate who still has friends there. He is no firewall, but Sessions would be a noticeable speed bump.
Resignations and other such grand gestures will make no impression on this president. That will take provable facts and the letter of the law.