Trump’s Widening Gyre of Investigations

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August 24, 2018 2:42 pm
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I haven’t written that much in the last 48 hours. That may seem like I’m just focusing on our membership drive. But that’s not really quite it. There is a bunch going on at TPM right now. We had the roll out of the new front page. Even when things like that go pretty flawlessly it’s still a pretty all-consuming, complex process. But again, it’s not just that. In addition to the other things that have had my attention, the news itself has been hard to process. It is not simply the sheer volume of the news but the way it has changed in recent days.

I mentioned one dimension of this back on Monday. For some time we had one big investigation, with at least a basic sense of what it is was being investigated: Russia, Trump and the 2016 election. That could go in many directions and has. But it’s a basic question, a basic set of players and – critically – it’s all housed under a single investigation and office.

That has changed pretty dramatically. Mueller referred the Cohen matter to the Southern District of New York early on, recognizing that at least these issues were outside the scope of his inquiry. That has led into the Trump Organization itself, with the company’s decades-long CFO given immunity in the Cohen investigation. SDNY also gave immunity to the guy who runs The National Enquirer. With that, we find that the Enquirer appears to have run a sort of wide-ranging extortion operation in which it would bury damaging stories about Trump and other celebrities either for money or to ensure their cooperation on other fronts. Maybe they managed that without managing to run afoul of any laws. But I tend to doubt it.

That’s not all. The Public Integrity Section at Main Justice is undertaking a major investigation into Elliott Broidy, the big GOP fundraiser and until recently Deputy Finance Chair of the RNC. Broidy is being investigated for trying to sell access to the Trump White House and DOJ to interests in Malaysia and China. Broidy’s name should be familiar. Michael Cohen set up a hush agreement for him too. He’s like the Kevin Bacon of Trump corruption, albeit much less dashing.

The point is this inquiry isn’t part of the Mueller investigation or the Manhattan US Attorney’s office. It’s out of Public Integrity – the main arm through which the DOJ deals with public corruption. Just this morning we learned that the Manhattan District Attorney (that’s state, not federal) is considering pursuing criminal charges against the Trump Organization tied to the misreporting of the Cohen hush money reimbursement. We can even go a bit further afield from Trump and his family to note that the case of Maria Butina, NRA favorite and accused Russian intelligence operative, is being handled out of the Counterintelligence Division, again separate from the Mueller probe. This doesn’t even get into what’s going on at the New York State Attorney General’s office.

The point I’m trying to make is that there’s no longer just one investigation. There’s not two. There are multiple, distinct investigations tied to President Trump and, critically, they are being run either by different jurisdictions or entirely different parts of the Justice Department. There are plenty of paths to the President’s and his family’s undoing even if he manages, through whatever means, to decapitate the Special Counsel Investigation.

Nor is this really surprising. As I noted two years ago, anyone who had spent time reviewing President Trump’s business history had to know that it wouldn’t survive first contact with real legal scrutiny. Not the past or the present. What stands out to me about the various criminal actions within the Trump orbit is not so much the crimes as their very casualness.

Consider the scandal tied to the Trump Foundation, largely uncovered by the Pulitzer-winning reporting of David A. Fahrenthold, which the State of New York has already brought suit over. This is a civil proceeding. But Weisselberg, the guy who got immunity today was on the board and didn’t even know he was on the board! They used the money as a personal piggy bank. They created a paper trail of emails discussing how they were using foundation for giving clearly tied to Trump’s presidential campaign. Right or wrong, people usually don’t get in criminal trouble over this kind of stuff. It’s a civil proceeding. But the more or less complete indifference to the laws and tax rules is telling. It’s not even so much as they decided to commit specific crimes as they simply lived in a business culture in which big parts of the law didn’t even exist.

There is a whole other discussion to be had about just how Trump managed to operate with such impunity for so long. The relevant immediate point is that, as we noted, almost none of it stands up to the most cursory legal scrutiny. Trump and members of his family have routinely broken the law – certainly with respect to money laundering, tax evasion and various financial crimes. They attract people who routinely violate the law. They rely upon and get favors from people who routinely break the law – often extending well outside the class of financial crimes. He has brought that culture to the presidency, routinely treating the government as something comparable to his own personal business, something that brings you potentially into a whole new class of criminal activity.

There’s no reason to expect this will not continue to expand, with new investigations, new jurisdictions and new connections between different investigations and jurisdictions.

Correction: This piece has been updated to remove any suggestion that Broidy was part of the Russia scandal.

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