05 September 2017

How Mueller Is Cornering Trump

New York Times recently ran a piece indicating that Robert Mueller asked for and received an early draft of the James Comey firing letter.

At the time, the draft (penned by Stephen Miller, the ironic white supremacist) was blocked by White House Counsel who asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to produce a different text.

The insinuation was that the original draft could be used to show that Trump was guilty of obstruction of justice.

I disagree. I think Mueller's move is a classic misdirection.

As I mentioned before, obstruction of justice charges or impeachment are a logical impossibility with a Congress controlled by the GOP. They would never throw one of their own under the bus and they would never go against Trump's core constituency.

As the song goes, without them, they are nothing.

What Mueller is doing is to obscure his real target, which is money laundering for Russian oligarchs through real estate deals.

And he is moving carefully yet deliberately and he is blocking all potential exit points before Trump realizes he is cornered.

The look on his face in that recent photo tells you what you need to know about his intentions.

Let's start with his first move.

After putting together a team which specializes in financial fraud and criminal accounting, he ordered a pre-dawn raid to the home of Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager to collect evidence.

What kind of evidence?

Squeezing the Perp

Well, Manafort is an interesting guy. He has all sorts of connections to Russian oligarchs. This is how Politico summarized them.

But let me remind you the highlights.

Manafort had to resign from Trump's campaign when the New York Times revealed that
Ukrainian investigators were looking into a “secret ledger” that listed $12.7 million in cash payments earmarked for Manafort by the party of the deposed former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
While the Ukrainian prosecutors subsequently found no evidence of foul play, such large sums on a secret ledger didn't leave a positive impression.

So, no one was surprised when it was reported that Manafort "owed as much as $17 million to companies controlled by a Russian oligarch and a Ukrainian businessman with political ties to Moscow."

And the debt was owed to well connected people.
Manafort—who retroactively registered as a foreign agent last month for his lobbying work—owed $7.8 million to a company connected to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin. Manafort also owed a separate sum of $9.9 million to a Cyprus company linked to Ivan Fursin, a Party of Regions member of the Ukrainian Parliament, through a Delaware-based LLC that he previously used to purchase real estate in New York City, the Times reports.
Manafort was also present in Donald Jr.'s infamous meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer who promised to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Also in attendance was "Irakly “Ike” Kaveladze, [who] had once been accused by congressional investigators of participating in a $1.4 billion money laundering scheme to funnel money from Eastern Europe through U.S. banks."

Given this background, if you were Mueller, you would expect some skeletons in Paul Manafort's closet. And he must have found some, as the search warrant for the raid was approved by a federal judge who agreed that there was probable cause.

Normally, as a prosecutor, you squeeze the perp (I am fully versed in Law and Order lingo) and they give you the higher ups.

Except in this case, Manafort knows (and Trump has already inquired to find out) that the President can pardon him no matter what. In essence, he is unsqueezable, if there is such a word.

To counter that, Mueller approached New York's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to include him in the Manafort dossier, as there are some New York City real estate deals and lobbying done from the city.

This has two advantages.

One, Schneiderman hates Trump with a passion as the President attacked him on Twitter using derogatory terms like "hack" and "lightweight." He is the one who forced Trump to settle the Trump University case for $25 million. And he can do more.
The New York prosecutor’s office also is looking into some of Trump’s business transactions and could potentially share those records with Mueller’s team, one of these people said. 
But the real reason why Mueller got Schneiderman to investigate Manafort is this:
It also could potentially provide Mueller with additional leverage to get Manafort to cooperate in the larger investigation into Trump’s campaign, as Trump does not have pardon power over state crimes.
In order words, Manafort has now become eminently squeezable.
Former federal prosecutors tell The Daily Beast one of Manafort’s biggest legal liabilities could be to what’s called a “check the box” prosecution. Federal law requires that people who have money in foreign bank accounts check a box on their tax returns disclosing that. And there’s speculation that Manafort may have neglected to check that box, which would be a felony.
If you are looking into Manafort's tax returns for possible crimes, why wouldn't you look into his former bosses returns?

In fact, Mueller can do that using Manafort's case.

Enter the IRS.

IRS Criminal Investigations Unit

If there was any doubt that Mueller's focus was on financial shenanigans, his decision to get the IRS' Criminal Investigation unit (CI) involved should set things straight.
Special counsel Bob Mueller has teamed up with the IRS. According to sources familiar with his investigation into alleged Russian election interference, his probe has enlisted the help of agents from the IRS’ Criminal Investigations unit.
Now these are folks who take financial crime seriously and besides tax evasion, their specialty is money laundering.
This unit—known as CI—is one of the federal government’s most tight-knit, specialized, and secretive investigative entities. Its 2,500 agents focus exclusively on financial crime, including tax evasion and money laundering. 
Apparently they hold Mueller in high esteem and the feeling is reciprocal.
“They view them with the highest regard,” Sheil said. “IRS special agents are the very best in the business of conducting financial investigations. They will quickly tell you that it took an accountant to nab Al Capone, and it’s true.”
So now Mueller has Trump's tax returns and he has the CI unit working overtime to follow the money trail. Besides the enormous threat that represents, it also puts a significant financial burden on the targets of the investigation.
The Daily Beast previously reported that targets of Mueller’s probe—including Manafort—are facing financial strain because of the probe, and that Manafort recently parted ways with the law firm WilmerHale in part because of his financial troubles.
In other words, it does not look good for Trump.

But there is one other escape hatch for him.

Justice Department's Tax Division

 You see,
As special counsel, Mueller is subject to the same rules as U.S. Attorneys. That means that if he wants to bring charges against Trump associates related to violations of tax law, he will need approval from the Justice Department’s elite Tax Division.
If there was a guy, like Jeff Sessions, appointed by Trump with his interests at heart, he might have stopped Mueller or dilute his findings or do something, anything.

Except, like almost 80 percent of federal senior positions, Team Trump neglected to appoint anyone to that post. It is being helmed by career bureaucrats.

And it is too late to do anything about it as it requires Senate confirmation and it is a sure bet that the Democrats would block a pro-Trump candidate until after the conclusion of the Mueller investigation.

Is it kismet or irony?

You decide.

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