Mueller may move beyond collusion to charge Trump with money laundering

Any move by special counsel Robert Mueller to go beyond collusion and obstruction of justice to probe possible money laundering by President Trump and his family could trigger a major constitutional clash — and present Congress with a massive political headache.

With nearly eight months gone by and some $7 million spent on Mr. Mueller’s Russia probe, speculation is mounting over when, whether and how the former FBI director might attempt to charge President Trump with a crime.

While sources say Mr. Mueller is “obsessed” with examining Mr. Trump’s network of business interests for potential money laundering infractions, there is a raging debate among legal scholars over whether that actually falls within the special counsel’s mandate.

That debate spilled into the open last week, when lawyers for Paul Manafort filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court directly challenging Mr. Mueller’s legal authority to investigate and indict the former Trump campaign manager on pre-2016 money laundering charges.

The Manafort case could take months if not much longer to wind its way through the courts, and with that as a backdrop, several legal scholars told The Washington Times that any move by Mr. Mueller to pursue the money laundering and Mr. Trump’s personal finances would be on far shakier ground, and end up in the lap of Congress to adjudicate.

“The most important thing we do as a democracy is get together every four years to elect a president,” said Federalist Society co-founder Steven Calabresi, a law professor at Northwestern University. “And before the nation decides to overturn one of those elections, Congress will consider everything as it debates what sort of conduct is so harmful that it would justify doing that.”

Passing on to Congress criminal charges such as money laundering — and possibly triggering impeachment proceedings — would be driven by Mr. Mueller’s desire to sidestep the debate over whether a special counsel even has the authority to bring charges directly against a sitting president, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, sources say.

Mr. Calabresi, who once clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, said Congress is exactly where charges against a sitting president should be debated.

But as the impeachment and Senate trial of President Bill Clinton proved two decades ago, the congressional debate would inevitably become contentious and partisan, and could spiral into unexpected directions.

Ronald Rotunda, who served as an adviser to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr’s in the probe of Mr. Clinton and also worked on the investigative team during Watergate, said that the legal concept of “scienter” could play a key role.

Mueller may move beyond collusion to charge Trump — and a constitutional clash will follow
Scienter, he explained, refers to “intent or knowledge of wrongdoing” — the concept that an offending party has knowledge of the “wrongness” or criminality of an act.

“In the case of holding Mr. Trump criminally accountable,” Mr. Rotunda said, “it would have to be proved that he individually approved or ratified criminal money laundering. But if one of his minions did, he would not be accountable.”

Sources close to Mr. Mueller have told The Times that that is what his investigators are currently attempting to determine. It could take months, years or never, another legal expert told the times.

Mr. Rotunda added, “To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.: Even a dog distinguishes between being tripped over and being kicked. That is the question for Mueller — he will have to show that Mr. Trump himself knew of money laundering.”

Mr. Calabresi, who has long questioned the sweeping authority given to special counsels and special prosecutor, said Mr. Mueller’s team should be pressed on how any money laundering charge relates to the original mandate to investigate the charges of collusion and Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“That’s another serious matter,” he said. “How is money laundering — which I do not think President Trump ever did — somehow connected to Mr. Mueller’s Russia probe?”

The debate over authority is unlikely to end even if, as some expect, Mr. Mueller turns over any findings on money laundering to lawmakers on Capitol Hill to act on as they wish. Many critics in Congress say they fear the special counsel has already exceeded his mandate.

But Mr. Calabresi said any Mueller referral to Congress “could also provide the nation an opportunity to witness a vigorous debate about something very big-picture and conceptual — the “criminalization of Mr. Trump’s politics.”

The Trump White House has long argued that suspicions of Russian collusion, and subsequent congressional and federal probes into the issue that have hung over the administration since its start, have been driven by Democratic Party and Obama-era appointed figures at the top of the Washington establishment seeking revenge for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 election loss.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly condemned the probe into collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin “a witch hunt” and “a hoax.”

For Mr. Calabresi and other skeptics, the expanded Mueller probe threatens to expand a trend where political opponents try to “criminalize” policy disagreements with their opponents.

“It’s an American tradition that we don’t send those we disagree with politically to the guillotine like they did in the French Revolution,” he said.

  1. #1 by TruthOutJournal on 01/12/2018 - 9:34

    When will reality come home? – Let’s all face it folks, a “real journalist” or for that matter, anyone with more than 66 brain cells knows that Mueller should rightfully be charged himself for treason for his crimes and ongoing cover up crimes of 911, brought before a court, and when found guilty either put in front of a military firing squad, or hanged until dead. That would happen in a “real world”. What we have today is a farce compiled with 99% “unreal reality” put forth by Jewish people who have everything to lose if and when their “fake reality” becomes apparent, and justly “real” for all to see.

  2. #2 by Ozy on 01/12/2018 - 9:34

    This Mueller chap has definitely gone out of his remit,this fàux investigation must End,for it is quite clear that is partisan and the elements of the security services are politicized and seem more intent on bringing down Trump No matter what,even if it leads to civil strife and or some kind of armed civil conflict.When you mess with the Democratic will of the people this can be extremely dangerous..

  3. #3 by stlonginus on 01/12/2018 - 9:34

    “It’s an American tradition that we don’t send those we disagree with politically to the guillotine like they did in the French Revolution,” he [Calabrese] said.

    Yes, but who was behind the French “revolution”? You get one guess. And “intellectuals” is an incorrect answer.

  4. #4 by lobro on 01/13/2018 - 9:34

    With nearly eight months gone by and some $7 million spent on Mr. Mueller’s Russia probe

    at $1 million/month and zero results, mueller probe qualifies for money laundering rubric.

    that kind of dough buys top-notch daily golden showers and in terms of return on investment, golden showers is all we got.

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