Reprinted with permission from Alternet.
Special prosecutor Robert Mueller has the image of a stodgy bureaucrat—and for good reason. He is one. A career civil servant with a couple of stints in private practice, his hang-dog face rarely cracks a smile, only an occasional wry grin. A registered Republican, he came to prominence when President George W. Bush appointed him FBI director in 2001. A decade later, President Obama reappointed him. He has no Twitter feed.
But Mueller (pronounced “Muller”) is a crafty power player, and he’s now collaborating with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in the investigation of Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his financial transactions, according to anonymous sources who spoke to Politico.
If Trump was thinking his pardon of disgraced Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio would seend a message to Manafort (and other Trump associates) that they need not cooperate with the FBI in order to get leniency, Mueller replied with a message of his own: the president can’t pardon you for state crimes.
eeee“For all Mueller’s incorruptibility,” writes Charles Pierce in Esquire, “nobody ever accused him of not knowing his way around Beltway politics. He knows what power is and how to use it far better than do the people he’s investigating.”
In fact, Mueller is a world-class leaker—his prosecutorial moves are regularly signaled in anonymously sourced stories in national media. (The Politico story was attributed to “people familiar with the matter.“) He has a knack for big cases that land him on the front page. He put Mafia don John Gotti in jail, investigated NFL star Ray Rice for punching his girlfriend, and handed out billions of dollars in settlement money for the Volkswagen emissions scandal.
Ideologically, he doesn’t stray far from the Washington consensus. When President George W. Bush sought to overturn a Justice Department policy and implement domestic wiretapping without a warrant in 2004, Mueller (and acting Attorney General James Comey) threatened to resign. Mueller forced Bush to make unspecified changes, and then approved the revised policy.
When asked in 2015 about NSA’s warrantless metadata collection on hundreds of millions of Americans, Mueller said he approved.
At 73, he’s still politically ambitious and ambidextrous. When Trump fired Comey as FBI director in May and was casting about for a new FBI director, Mueller offered his name and landed an interview with the president. Trump was still considering adding him to his administration when Mueller was named inedependent counsel the next day.
Mueller knows how to deflect Trump’s diatribes.
When the president told the New York Times that Mueller’s investigation of the Trump family business would be a “violation,” Bloomberg News reported within 24 hours that Mueller had expanded his probe to include “a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associatees.” Trump hasn’t repeated that talking point since.
Mueller knows how to defend himself. When Terump surrogate Newt Gingrich tried to rally Republicans against Mueller saying he represented the “deep state at its worst,” Mueller’s allies in the Senate unanimously agreed to a parliamentary maneuver that prevented Trump from firing the special prosecutor while Congress was on summer vacation. Now Trump knows he risks impeachment if he fires Mueller, and Gingrich has dropped the line of attack.
Besides working a New York state case against Manafort, Mueller has empanelled two grand juries, one in northern Virginia, the other in Washington D.C. He has demanded the records of the Trump associates who attended the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. He’s looking into the digital operations of the Trump campaign and probing whether Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn sought to obtain Clinton’s emails from the Russians.
The revelation that Mueller and Schneiderman are working together, Politico says, is “the latest indication that the federal probe into President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman is intensifying.”
It is also the latest indication that Trump does not know how to respond to Mueller’s full-court press. The president has been abusing Schneiderman on Twitter ever since the New York attorney general brought a lawsuit in 2013 on behalf of Trump University students. After the election, Trump settled the lawsuit for $25 million.
By contrast, Trump has never mentioned Robert Mueller’s name on Twitter, although in a 4am tweet in July he did complain that the “special council” was not investigating Clinton.
Mueller has other priorities, as the president and his associates are learning on a daily basis.
Jefferson Morley is AlterNet’s Washington correspondent. He is the author of the forthcoming biography The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (St. Martin’s Press, October 2017) and the 2016 Kindle ebook CIA and JFK: The Secret Assassination Files.
It’s a tall task to get anyone to watch a late-night comedy show with special guest: a government lawyer. Unless that government lawyer is Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney general who filed a successful $40 million civil lawsuit against Trump University.
For Schneiderman’s efforts, now-President Donald Trump directed a characteristically ham-fisted Twitter tantrum @AGSchneiderman.
(Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump said on Saturday he intends to dissolve his charitable foundation, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which has been under investigation by the New York attorney general.
Trump gave no timeline for winding down the foundation, but said in a statement that he wanted “to avoid even the appearance of any conflict with my role as President.” He directed his counsel to take the necessary steps for the dissolution.
With less than four weeks to his January 20 inauguration, the New York real estate magnate is under increasing pressure to reduce potential conflicts of interest ranging from his vast global business operations to his family’s philanthropic work.
This week, Trump said his son Eric would stop raising money for his own foundation over concerns that donors could be seen as buying access to the Trump family. The president-elect said it was a “ridiculous shame” that his son’s foundation would stop raising money.
Before Trump’s surprising election victory on November 8, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in October directed the Donald J. Trump Foundation to stop taking donations, saying the foundation violated state law requiring charitable organizations that solicit outside donations to register with a state office.
Schneiderman’s order followed a series of reports in The Washington Post that suggested improprieties by the foundation, including using its funds to settle legal disputes involving Trump businesses.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said on Saturday that Trump cannot shutter the foundation while the investigation is ongoing.
“The Trump Foundation is still under investigation by this office and cannot legally dissolve until that investigation is complete,” spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick said. She would not comment on expected timing for completing the investigation.
Trump said he was “very proud” of the money raised by the foundation and said it had operated at “essentially no cost for decades.”
“But because I will be devoting so much time and energy to the Presidency and solving the many problems facing our country and the world,” he added in his statement, “I don’t want to allow good work to be associated with a possible conflict of interest.”
The Trump Foundation, which was established in 1988, runs no programs of its own. Instead, it donates to other nonprofit groups such as the Police Athletic League for youths.
Scrutiny of the Trump family’s philanthropic activities heightened in recent weeks following reports of access to the family for potential donors.
Eric Trump faced criticism for an online auction sponsored by his foundation, which raises money to help terminally ill children at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, offering the highest bidder a chance to have coffee with his sister Ivanka.
After the announcement that Eric would not be allowed to raise money for his foundation, Trump tweeted: “He loves these kids, has raised millions of dollars for them, and now must stop. Wrong answer!”
Trump’s critics, however, remembered how the president-elect had attacked his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, over their family foundation. In August, Trump urged the Justice Department to investigate the Clinton Foundation, which he called a “pay-to-play” operation that rewarded big donors with favors from the State Department while Clinton was secretary of state.
Eric Trump and his brother Donald Trump Jr. also came under fire this week for their role in a post-inauguration charity event that offered a private reception with their father in exchange for a $1 million donation.
The brothers were listed on a draft invitation as honorary co-chairmen of the fundraiser for conservation charities, dubbed “Opening Day,” set to be held in Washington the day after the January 20 inauguration.
On Tuesday, the Trump transition team said Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump were not involved with the fundraiser and a subsequent invitation dropped references to donors meeting with any members of the Trump family.
(Reporting by Emily Stephenson and Melissa Fares; Writing by Mary Milliken; Editing by Leslie Adler)
IMAGE: President-elect Donald Trump talks to reporters at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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