Of course, follow the money

Busi­ness ties are the first place to look

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Doug Thompson Doug Thompson is a po­lit­i­cal re­porter and colum­nist for the North­west Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette. Email him at dthomp­son@nwadg.com or on Twit­ter @NWADoug.

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.