President Trump’s team is reportedly looking at ways to push back against an apparently overzealous FBI special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election — putting together a case of Mueller’s team’s alleged conflicts of interest.
The New York Times reported late Thursday that the Trump team is engaging in what the paper called a “wide-ranging” search for potential conflicts, including donations from members of Mueller’s team to Democratic candidates, past clients, as well as Mueller’s relationship to fired former FBI Director James Comey.
Trump had hinted at such a tactic when he told the Times in an interview Wednesday that he believed there were conflicts of interests in Mueller’s team, and that he would make that information available soon.
In the same interview, he took a swipe at Mueller by saying that a day before Mueller was appointed special prosecutor, Trump had interviewed him as a potential replacement for Comey.
“He was sitting in that chair,” Trump said. “He was up here, and he wanted the job.”
In particular, the White House has expressed concern about Mueller going outside the scope of his investigation, particularly into the area of Trump’s finances. Trump himself expressed this concern to the Times: “I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.”
The Washington Post reported that Trump has been “fuming” about the possibilities of the probe asking questions about his deal-making before he was a candidate, and that was “especially disturbed” when he was told that Mueller would have access to several years of tax returns.
“If you’re looking at Russian collusion, the president’s tax returns would be outside that investigation,” a close adviser to the president told the Post.
Should Mueller dip into areas that are perceived as outside the scope of his investigation, it seems that Trump’s team are ready to fight back, by focusing on conflicts of interest — particularly donations from Mueller’s team to Democrats. Already there are signs of this, with recent reports that three of Mueller’s team donated to Democratic campaigns — including Hillary Clinton’s doomed 2016 campaign.
According to the Post, another conflict is a claim that Mueller had a dispute with a Trump golf club in Virginia over member fees when Mueller stepped down as a member — something Mueller denies.
Mueller’s team appear to be going to battle too, apparently using the media to leak details to the press –namely, a Bloomberg report that cited a source “familiar with the probe.” That report said that the probe is looking into Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, and Trump’s involvement in a “controversial SoHo development” with Russian associates.
Bloomberg also reported that they are also looking at the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow — indicating that Mueller has an extremely broad understanding of what his mandate is.
The Times reported Friday that Mueller’s team has requested IRS-related documents related to Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, from an investigation that was opened long before Trump’s campaign, and from which Manafort was never charged.
Trump has also reportedly discussed his authority to grant pardons in connection to the probe, although officials told the Post that he was only being curious about his authority.
“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’” a close adviser told the paper.