(National Sentinel)Â Executive Branch: Last month in an interview withÂ The New York Times, President Donald J. Trump was asked if he believed there was a “red line” that special counsel Robert Mueller should not cross in his investigation into alleged “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The president indicated that line involved his family’s finances; if Mueller were to cross that, “I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.”
One former federal prosecutor, writing atÂ CNN of all places, agrees with Trump. Notes Matthew Whitaker, a CNN legal commentator and former U.S. attorney who directs the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), a conservative ethics watchdog group:
Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing.
According to a CNN article, Mueller’s investigators could be looking into financial records relating to the Trump Organization that are unrelated to the 2016 election. According to these reports, “sources described an investigation that has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, some unconnected to the 2016 election.” The piece goes on to cite law enforcement sources who say non-Russia-related leads that “involve Trump associates” are being referred to the special counsel “to encourage subjects of the investigation to cooperate.”
This information is deeply concerning to me. It does not take a lawyer or even a former federal prosecutor like myself to conclude that investigating Donald Trump’s finances or his family’s finances falls completely outside of the realm of his 2016 campaign and allegations that the campaign coordinated with the Russian government or anyone else. That goes beyond the scope of the appointment of the special counsel.
He also notes that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, when he appointed Mueller, didÂ not, in fact,Â give him broad authority to rifle through Trump’s non-campaign-related finances.
“In fact, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s letter appointing special counsel Robert Mueller does not give Mueller broad, far-reaching powers in this investigation. He is only authorized to investigate matters that involved any potential links to and coordination between two entities — the Trump campaign and the Russian government,” Whitaker wrote. “People are wrongly pointing to, and taking out of context, the phrase ‘any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation’ to characterize special counsel’s authority as broad.”
Whitaker says part of the reason for this misunderstanding comes from a view held by many that Mueller’s probe of Trump is similar in nature to independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation into Bill Clinton criminality in the 1990s.
“One of the dynamics at play here is that people are conflating this investigation and Kenneth Starr’s 1994 investigation into President Bill Clinton. While partly understandable at first glance, the two investigations are not comparable — not only have more than two decades passed since then, but a completely new law and legal framework governing separate investigations has also passed,” he wrote. “Starr was an independent counsel and Mueller is a special counsel, the two words are different for a reason.”
Any investigation into President Trump’s finances or the finances of his family would requireMueller to return to Rod Rosenstein for additional authority under Mueller’s appointment as special counsel.
If he were to continue to investigate the financial relationships without a broadened scope in his appointment, then this would raise serious concerns that the special counsel’s investigation was a mere witch hunt. If Mueller is indeed going down this path, Rosenstein should act to ensure the investigation is within its jurisdiction and within the authority of the original directive.
What’s troubling is that Congress — Republicans included — have moved toÂ protect Mueller from being fired either by Trump or the Justice DepartmentÂ he leads. While this may be politically unwise for Trump, it isÂ not prima facie evidence of a crime since Mueller works for an Executive Branch agency answerable, ultimately, toÂ head of the Executive Branch.
And yet, Trump may ultimately be given no choice in the matter.
“It is time for Rosenstein, who is the acting attorney general for the purposes of this investigation, to order Mueller to limit the scope of his investigation to the four corners of the order appointing him special counsel,” Whitaker writes.
“If he doesn’t, then Mueller’s investigation will eventually start to look like a political fishing expedition. This would not only be out of character for a respected figure like Mueller, but also could be damaging to the President of the United States and his family — and by extension, to the country.
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