OK, so, put on your Rawls veil of ignorance for a minute. Nice, thank you. That’s one sweet-looking veil. No, I get it, it’s painted like a War Boy. Yeah, Fury Road, cool. Anyway, the point is, with it on, you don’t know anything about the Trump Presidency. Hell, you don’t know anything about Donald Trump. You don’t hate him or love him, and have zero pre-conceived notions about his moral probity, his sense of ethics. You have no knowledge of anything about the Russian collusion investigation.
Good? Now peep these headlines.
NYTimes: Trump Aides, Seeking Leverage, Investigate Mueller’s Investigators
WaPo: Trump’s lawyers explore pardoning powers and ways to undercut Russia investigation
Now, again, not knowing anything, at the very least you’d think there was something hinky going on, right? People who aren’t worried about an investigation don’t look for ways to undermine it and certainly don’t think about pre-emptively pardoning themselves. Right?
I guess in theory you could say that the investigation itself is so biased that they have to do this. This is certainly one tactic. It’s a very, very reasonable one the Trump team is taking with Mueller.
The search for potential conflicts is wide-ranging. It includes scrutinizing donations to Democratic candidates, investigators’ past clients and Mr. Mueller’s relationship with James B. Comey, whose firing as F.B.I. director is part of the special counsel’s investigation.
The “donations to Democratic candidates” is probably the most revealing. That’s been an article of faith on the right ever since it turned out that the wife of someone who Mueller hired had donated money to Terry MacCaullife. It is, of course, Newt Gingrich who has been blaring this horn the loudest, especially since it turns out that several other hires might be Democrats, or, as Newt called them, “bad people.”
Of course, think about what that say about Newt. He just assumes that career prosecutors, people respected across the political spectrum, including the universally-praised Robert Mueller, will start a vendetta against a sitting President because their wife gave money to a governor’s race. He just assumes everyone is as nakedly partisan and wildly unethical and hilariously hypocritical and deeply unpatriotic as he is.
But that’s always been Newt. The rest of the Admin is gearing up on the discredit train now because it has been hinted that Mueller is going to start looking at the finances of the Trump family to see if, despite their claims to the contrary, they might have financial ties with Russia.
This has always been the key to the whole sordid business. American banks wouldn’t touch Trump, so he’s had to look outside the US for financing. This has meant shady deals in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and especially Russia. They have a lot of rich Russian partners, and if you are rich in Russia, you’re connected to Putin.
This doesn’t mean I actually think Putin collaborated directly with Trump or anything. He (the former, obviously) is smarter than that, though not an evil genius. I think that Putin has seen Trump as a potential candidate for some time, not as someone who could win, probably, but who could go far and really shake things up. A loud, rude, anti-democratic authoritarian-wannabe who would disrupt America just by his presence.
(That Putin understood how fragile our system was and how vulnerable we were to racist, ignorant demagogues better than I did is a disquieting thought for another day.)
So there were a few tracks here. There was the anti-Hillary track, in which they wanted to discredit and weaken her in case she won, hawkish as she was toward Russia. There was the pro-Trump track in that he was sort of their kind of leader, an anti-liberalism type who would leave Russia alone. There was the “let’s make a higgedly-piggedly* out of the US election” track, which they would have done if Jeb was the nominee.
The thing is though, if Jeb was the nominee, I don’t think they would have approached him the way they did with Don Jr. They were able to do so because the campaign was already deeply infused with so many pro-Russia advocates, like Carter Page, Michael Flynn, and of course Paul Manafort. And it was infuse with them because Trump and his kids, through their dealings, were already close with the political-economic axis that runs Russia, the vague oligarchs and their playboy sons and the legions of hangers-on and expats.
And that’s the key to it. I don’t know exactly what the Trump team is hiding in their finanicals. Is it money laundering for oligarchs? Maybe (that could explain ridiculous sweetheart deals). Maybe they just want to hide the extent of their ties with Russia or former Soviet states. Maybe they don’t want people to understand exactly how tied they are with corrupt leaders and quasi-state actors. I am sort of doubting it is the last one, because we’re already at the point where Fox News is saying “who cares about collusion?”
So, I don’t know. This is far more sordid than my imagination allows me to run. But you know it is about the money, and you know they are beginning to feel the heat, when they start asking about pardons. Which brings us briefly back to the WaPo article, which has the two funniest quotes you’ll read all day.
One adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.
“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’ ” a close adviser said.
Because if there is one thing Trump is known for, it is a general curiousity about things beyond his personal interest. Methinks close advisor protested away the game, here.
And then there is this.
“The fact is that the president is concerned about conflicts that exist within the special counsel’s office and any changes in the scope of the investigation,” (Trump’s lawyer Jay) Sekulow said. “The scope is going to have to stay within his mandate. If there’s drifting, we’re going to object.”
Sekulow cited Bloomberg News reports that Mueller is scrutinizing some of Trump’s business dealings, including with a Russian oligarch who purchased a Palm Beach mansion from Trump for $95 million in 2008.
“They’re talking about real estate transactions in Palm Beach several years ago,” Sekulow said. “In our view, this is far outside the scope of a legitimate investigation.”
That’s going to be the line. The same people who went apeshit for years because Barack Obama owned property near Tony Rezko will tell you that doing enormous amounts of above-market deals with Russia and politically-connected Russian oligarchs is outside the scope of investigation into possible connections to Russia.
Why? Because the deal happened years ago. And we all know the Russian saying, “If you’re in debt to us, you’re only in debt for a few years, because life is too short to hold grudges.”
The chances that he pre-emptively pardons himself and fires Mueller (or fires Rosenstein for not) should be really small. But are they really?