It appears that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is intensifying.
Mueller’s team is expanding its probe into the attempted Russian interference in the 2016 election by teaming up with the IRS and the New York Attorney General’s office. The special counsel seems focused on potential financial crimes and is looking into the finances of both President Donald Trump and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Mueller’s recent actions appear to be what many on the right have feared; he seems to be poised to exceed his mandate. For over a year, the authorities have searched for evidence indicating that President Trump or members of his campaign colluded with Russian intelligence to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. However, no evidence has been found. It is possible this lack of evidence is the reason Mueller is focusing on potential financial misdeeds.
Mueller’s Ultimate Team-Up with the New York Attorney General
Politico recently reported that Robert Mueller’s team is working with Eric Schneiderman, the New York Attorney General on his probe into Paul Manafort’s finances. Some see this investigation as a way for Mueller to subvert the president’s pardoning power – he is unable to give pardons for state-level crimes. The Manafort investigation might give Mueller leverage that he can use to find evidence of wrongdoing in the Trump administration. If Politico’s report is any indication, it is possible that Schneiderman has already found evidence of financial crime.
According to Politico, both Mueller’s and Schneiderman’s teams “have collected evidence on financial crimes, including potential money laundering.” Beyond that, the team has approached family members and former business partners – they also subpoenaed several entities who have worked with the former campaign manager. In July, the F.B.I. raided Manafort’s home and retrieved documents. However, Manafort is not Schneiderman’s only target.
The New York Attorney General’s office is investigating some of President Trump’s business dealings. His team might share this information with the special counsel’s team – however, it is not clear whether or not Schneiderman has found any evidence of a crime. This is just one of the avenues Mueller is pursuing in his investigation.
The IRS Collaboration
In addition to working with Eric Schneiderman, The Daily Beast reported that Mueller is also seeking help from the I.R.S. He is specifically working with the Criminal Investigation (CI) unit, which looks into financial crimes. According to The Daily Beast, the CI is “one of the federal government’s most tight-knit, specialized, and secretive investigative entities.”
The Criminal Investigations unit focuses on a broad range of financial crimes, including tax evasion and money laundering. A former colleague of Mueller’s indicated that he has a strong working relationship with the CI. Apparently, the CI is a highly efficient agency. Martin Sheil, a retired Criminal Investigations agent, said, “When CI brings a case to a U.S. Attorney, it is done. It’s wrapped up with a ribbon and a bow. It’s just comprehensive.”
If CI is working with Mueller, it could cause problems for the Trump administration – even if the president did nothing wrong. The reason why is because the president has not filled any positions in the division with any of his own appointments. Right now, the department is being run by career officials. A former Tax Division prosecutor said.
The fact that there is not a senate-confirmed Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division, and that the Trump people have disregarded it despite warnings as far back as December that they needed to fill the AAG’s spot… shows what a self-created mess the Trump administration has found itself in.
If Trump had appointed some of his people to the division, they could ensure that Mueller’s team conducts a fair investigation. Since it is possible that the probe might be politically-motivated, it would have been a good idea to make sure there were people in the organization that could prevent any misconduct on Mueller’s team.
The Potential Risks
While Mueller’s latest moves might seem dire for the Trump administration, there are other factors at play. By working with the I.R.S. and the New York Attorney General, Mueller could be making his team vulnerable to greater scrutiny. Schneiderman has an antagonistic relationship with the president. He won at $25 million settlement from the investigation into fraudulent practices at Trump University. Trump has repeatedly lashed out at Schneiderman on Twitter, calling him a “hack” and a “lightweight.” The enmity between Trump and Schneiderman could make Mueller’s investigation appear to be driven by political motives – which could call into question any findings that could implicate the president in a crime. The same could hold true for the I.R.S.’s Criminal Investigations unit.
The I.R.S. has been shown to have a bias against conservatives. In 2012, it was discovered that the I.R.S. had unfairly targeted conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status. Under the Obama administration, groups affiliated with the Tea Party and other conservative movements were disproportionately subjected to additional investigations that made it harder for them to become tax exempt. This blatant bias could also cause people to question their motives in this probe.
The Russia investigation is far from over – some believe it could take years. However, Mueller’s actions could be an indicator that he intends to investigate matters that are not related to the Russian interference in the election. This is what has concerned conservatives since Mueller’s appointment. The fact that his team contains a significant number of Democratic supporters lends some credence to this argument. This investigation may turn out to be a witch hunt, after all.