By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –
Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has empaneled a grand jury in the investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia. The Grand Jury in turn has already issued a subpoena with regard to the meeting of Don Trump Jr. and other senior Trump advisors June 9 of 2016 with Natalia Veselnitskaya. Trump is clearly under investigation for obstruction with regard to the latter meeting, since he allegedly wrote a statement for Don Jr. to be read out for the public, in which he had his son deny that the meeting was campaign oriented, saying it was about adoption.
The mention of adoption is a tell. When Congress enacted a law permitting the sanctioning of high Russian officials around Vladimir Putin (the Magnitsky Act) in 2012, Putin’s response was to forbid Americans from adopting Russian babies. When Trump senior had his son say the meeting was about adoption, he was revealing that it was in part about the repeal of the Magnitsky Act. The Russians who set up the meeting, the Agalarovs, promised Trump Jr dirt on Hillary Clinton (presumably gathered by hackers, whom Putin once called “patriotic.”)
It now seems clear that Don Jr. released the email chain around that meeting in order to protect himself from going to jail, since his father had been imposing on him press releases about the meeting that distorted what happened and so may have involved obstruction of justice.
The Emoluments clause of the Constitution forbids politicians to accept anything of value from a foreign power. Some legal analysts have suggested that if the Trump campaign did receive significant help from Russia, even in the form of information, it could meet the definition of an emolument.
Mueller appears to think there is something to the story of Trump’s collusion with Russia during the campaign. The Veselnitskaya meeting alone is pretty strong evidence in this regard. But Mueller is also investigating Trump’s finances, including the possibility that Trump used his New York real Estate holdings for money laundering for Russian concerns. For Mueller to zero in on Trump’s business affairs is The Donald’s worst nightmare, and he tried to make it a red line, to no avail.
Ironically, Trump was just forced by Congress to sign new tough sanctions on Russia into law. The Putin team seem to have been hurt and confused. It is almost as though they knew nothing about the separation of powers and expected Trump to erase the Magnitsky Act by presidential fiat.
According to Interfax/ BBC Monitoring, Igor Sechin, the head of the Russian oil corporation Rosneft, complained, “Even the US president has said that the bill [on sanctions] is wrong. He objects it but signs it. What else can I add? Of course, the law is wrong, they understand it themselves,” Rosneft and Sechin are both under US sanctions.
Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev lamented this state of affairs on Facebook [BBC Monitoring]:
“the Trump administration has demonstrated complete impotence, handing over executive powers to Congress in a most humiliating manner. This changes the balance of forces in US political circles.”
“What does this mean for them? The American establishment has comprehensively outplayed Trump. The president is not happy over the new sanctions, but he could not not sign off the law. The new sanctions move is, above all, yet another way of reining in Trump. There will be more moves, the ultimate purpose of which is his removal from office.”
So Medvedev is putting his money on Mueller to dig up the kind of dirt that will get Trump impeached. And there is something guilty about his performance.