Yesterday there was an emerging theme among right-leaning commentators that the upshot of the Flynn plea deal, damning as it may seem, is that Robert Mueller has given up on finding an election tampering conspiracy and is focusing squarely on an obstruction of justice charge against the President. In most cases, this is presented as an indictment of the investigation itself. In other words, on the big question of the Trump campaign conspiring with Russia, there was nothing there and Mueller is falling back on charges internal to the investigation itself, i.e., ways the President allegedly attempted to obstruct it. We’ll return to this line of argument because it’s an important one.
I corresponded with a few of my trusted former public corruption prosecutors about this yesterday. Most agreed to the extent that Mueller’s primary focus now does seem to be on obstruction of justice. They saw no reason for Trump supporters confidence, however, that Mueller has somehow decided collusion hadn’t happened or couldn’t be proven.
This morning we have clear evidence Mueller is very much still investigating that question. Several weeks ago, according to Bloomberg News, Mueller subpoenaed President Trump’s banking records from Deutsche Bank. (There were reports in late July that Mueller had opened informal contacts with the bank.)
This is a critical development.
As we’ve discussed before, actually going back 18 months, all major banks have for years refused to do business with Donald Trump. The exception is Deutsche Bank, which is of course not a US bank but does substantial business in the US and is on the scale of other big banks that have refused to do business with the now President.
Why Deutsche Bank still works with Trump (they financed most of the DC Trump hotel project, for instance) is a basic question running through the Russia story. I’ve had a couple theories. One is simply this: that years ago Trump realized that he couldn’t be shut out by every major bank. He needed at least one major lender who would still do business with him and thus made sure not to cheat or gouge them as actively as he did the others. (This wasn’t terribly credible since he got in a legal tangle with DB a few years ago demanding that he be released from his debt to the bank and be reimbursed because of the banks role in the 2008 financial crisis. Yes, he sued saying he should be released from repaying a loan.) The other possibility is that there was some extra-economic factor that kept them lending.
Along those lines many have pointed out that lots of Russian money goes through Deutsche Bank and indeed the bank has been repeatedly fined for Russian money laundering. The Deutsche Bank subpoena is certainly about probing the President’s financial ties to Russia, which are as we know extensive.
Let’s note too what we’ve argued repeatedly which is that Donald Trump’s finances, quite apart from the specific matter of campaign collusion, simply can’t withstand any real legal scrutiny. This is the kind of move Trump has suggested might provoke him to fire Mueller.