Mnuchin and Pom­peo should re­cuse them­selves

The Washington Post - - FREE FOR ALL -

Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin and CIA Di­rec­tor Mike Pom­peo ought to fol­low the lead of At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions and re­cuse them­selves from the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble col­lu­sion be­tween Pres­i­dent Trump’s cam­paign and the Rus­sian govern­ment in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

The two Cab­i­net mem­bers are linked to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion through the agen­cies they run, which are as­sist­ing spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III’s wide-rang­ing probe. Mnuchin and Pom­peo should step aside for the same rea­son Ses­sions took him­self out of the pic­ture: po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est.

In ex­plain­ing his re­cusal, Ses­sions said he was fol­low­ing the rec­om­men­da­tion of Jus­tice Depart­ment ethics of­fi­cials. “They said that since I had in­volve­ment with the cam­paign, I should not be in­volved in any cam­paign in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” he said. Mnuchin is in the same boat. The trea­sury sec­re­tary served as na­tional fi­nance chair for Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and on the Trump tran­si­tion team. What’s more, Mnuchin has a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with Trump and his im­me­di­ate fam­ily mem­bers, and has po­lit­i­cal re­la­tion­ships that ex­tend to Trump tran­si­tion ad­vis­ers and cam­paign aides who could be af­fected by Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Pom­peo has his own con­flict chal­lenge. A far-right Repub­li­can elected to Congress in the tea party wave of 2010, Pom­peo touts his per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with Trump and key ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials. He is an Oval Of­fice fa­vorite.

A se­ri­ous ques­tion of par­tial­ity arises in the cases of these Trump ap­pointees.

As it stands, Mnuchin and Pom­peo are in a po­si­tion to closely mon­i­tor where the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is headed — be­cause Trea­sury and the CIA are in the thick of it.

Those govern­ment agen­cies are key providers of sup­port for the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble con­tacts, money trans­fers and business re­la­tion­ships, in­clud­ing any money laun­der­ing, among a va­ri­ety of Rus­sian of­fi­cials and Trump as­so­ci­ates.

One Trea­sury bureau, the Fi­nan­cial Sys­tem Crimes En­force­ment Net­work, or Fin CEN, is es­pe­cially equipped to help un­earth pos­si­ble en­tan­gle­ments among Trump, his as­so­ci­ates and Rus­sia — or any sus­pi­cious fi­nan­cial ac­tiv­i­ties of Trump and his as­so­ci­ates. The In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice, an­other Trea­sury bureau, is a crit­i­cal in­ves­tiga­tive as­set be­cause of its ac­cess to tax re­turns and fa­mil­iar­ity with tax eva­sion and games­man­ship with money de­rived from il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties — the stuff of which con­vic­tions are made.

The CIA is sim­i­larly sit­u­ated with the spe­cial coun­sel’s of­fice. Last month, CIA spokesman Ryan Tra­pani noted that the FBI and the spe­cial coun­sel’s of­fice are lead­ing the law-en­force­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­volve­ment in the elec­tion, but he con­firmed: “CIA is pro­vid­ing rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion in sup­port of that in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Which gets us back to two of Trump’s most obeisant Cab­i­net mem­bers, Mnuchin and Pom­peo, and the mat­ter of their re­cusal.

Do they mon­i­tor the work of their agen­cies with the spe­cial coun­sel’s of­fice? Do they know the con­tents of the in­for­ma­tion shared with the spe­cial coun­sel’s of­fice? If so, what are they do­ing with that in­for­ma­tion?

I raised these ques­tions this week with t press of­fices at Trea­sury and the CIA. I also asked whether Mnuchin or Pom­peo — or a de­signee — has dis­sem­i­nated any of the in­for­ma­tion to White House of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent, his fam­ily mem­bers, le­gal ad­vis­ers or any other ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial. The CIA did not re­spond. On Friday, spokesman Seth Unger said Trea­sury “de­clined to com­ment.” My ques­tions were not with­out cause. While Mnuchin and Pom­peo should ex­pect to be kept in­formed of in­ves­ti­ga­tions con­ducted by their agen­cies, the fruits of those in­ves­ti­ga­tions should be dis­sem­i­nated only to duly au­tho­rized pros­e­cu­tors, not the White House.

The coun­try has a dark his­tory of that rule hav­ing been vi­o­lated. And it was a ma­jor part of what led to a com­mit­tee of Congress in 1974 ap­prov­ing ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment against a pres­i­dent of the United States.

To re­call: Pres­i­dent Richard M. Nixon was charged with “dis­sem­i­nat­ing in­for­ma­tion re­ceived from of­fi­cers of [the U.S. govern­ment] to sub­jects of in­ves­ti­ga­tion . . . for the pur­pose of aid­ing and as­sist­ing such sub­jects in their at­tempts to avoid crim­i­nal li­a­bil­ity.”

The facts, ac­cord­ing to the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee doc­u­ments: On April 16, 1973, then-as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral Henry Petersen went to the White House and re­layed to Nixon ev­i­dence im­pli­cat­ing his chief of staff, H.R. Halde­man, and Halde­man’s aide Gor­don Stra­chan in Water­gate.

Min­utes af­ter Petersen left, Nixon met with White House as­sis­tant John Ehrlich­man and in­formed him of Petersen’s rev­e­la­tions. Ehrlich­man then took steps to gather as much in­for­ma­tion as he could about the events re­garded as po­ten­tially in­crim­i­nat­ing by the pros­e­cu­tors.

Nixon, the com­mit­tee con­cluded, had spo­ken falsely to Petersen when he as­sured him that se­cret pros­e­cu­to­rial in­for­ma­tion would not be dis­cussed with any­one. Nixon, in fact, in­formed for­mer aides who were grand jury sub­jects of mount­ing ev­i­dence against them. Hence, the ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment.

Mnuchin and Pom­peo might en­joy their ac­cess to the pres­i­dent. But they shouldn’t be fool­hardy. Be­cause of their jobs, they also might be in a con­flict sit­u­a­tion and a po­si­tion to aid and abet in­di­vid­u­als who could face crim­i­nal li­a­bil­ity.

Brownie points and candy from Trump may be dandy, but re­cusal is bet­ter.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.