Russia, finance, tax returns and campaign


“Witch hunt” or a sign of questionable behaviour by the President? Whatever your view of the many investigations into Donald Trump’s affairs, they are likely to keep cropping up for the rest of his time in office.

There are now more than a dozen ongoing investigations into his 2016 election campaign, his inaugural committee, his business, his conduct as president and his links with foreign entities.

And while Mr Trump claimed in his State of the Union address that the “ridiculous partisan investigations” could harm the economy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi countered that Democrats would not be stopped by his “all-out threat”.

With the Democrats holding the majority in the House of Representatives, a string of congressional committees are pushing forward in an effort to uncover whatever they can about the President of the United States.

Mr Trump is fighting back just as hard. Here’s a guide to the most significant investigations, and the drama they could cause over the coming months.

RUSSIAN ELECTION MEDDLING

The President has repeatedly attacked the “rigged witch hunt” by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mr Mueller has been investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in its attempts to meddle in the presidential election and ensure his win.

Trump adviser Roger Stone was indicted late last month on a charge of obstructing an investigation of his links to WikiLeaks, which released Democratic emails hacked by Russia during the campaign.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort allegedly lied about his sharing polling information with a business associate linked to Russian intelligence in 2016.

And in December, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying about how long his talks with Russians over a potential Trump Tower in Moscow continued into the campaign.

While none of this proves collusion, Mr Mueller could deliver osme bombshell revelations when he wraps up his probe.

THE MOSCOW PROJECT

The Trump Organisation allegedly offered Vladimir Putin a cut-price $US50 million penthouse in the proposed Trump Tower Moscow. This could violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bans US officials from giving foreign governments gifts as part of a deal.

Businessman Felix Sater told Buzzfeed News that the apartment offer was a tactic intended to increase the property’s value and make it a more attractive prospect for Russian oligarchs.

Experts say the deal would only violate the FCPA if the offer was made in writing, in exchange for a benefit such as a tax break or zoning permit.

Mr Trump could also be implicated in Cohen’s guilty plea to lying to Congress.

Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis told Bloomberg “Mr Trump and the White House knew that Michael Cohen would be testifying falsely to Congress and did not tell him not to.”

BuzzFeed reported that Cohen told investigators Mr Trump ordered him to lie to Congress — but Mr Mueller’s team took the unprecedented step of denying the report.

Mr Mueller said Cohen had co-operated over “the circumstances of preparing his false testimony” and how much White House staff knew about it.

Mr Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr arrange a meeting about the tower with a Russian lawyer in 2016, and Politico reported that the younger Mr Trump told friends he was concerned he could be indicted.

HUSH PAYMENTS

Federal prosecutors also secured a guilty plea from Cohen over making hush payments to women who alleged they had affairs with Mr Trump, violating federal campaign finance laws.

Cohen was sentenced to 36 months in prison in December after pleading guilty to eight federal crimes, including the pay-offs.

Prosecutors said Cohen made the payments to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels “in co-ordination with and at the direction of” Mr Trump, making him an unindicted co-conspirator in the case.

Prosecutors also came to a non-prosecution agreement with American Media Inc, parent company of The National Enquirer, which paid $US150,000 for the rights to Ms McDougal’s story but never published it.

AMI “admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election”, according to the NPA.

NBC and CNN reported that the unnamed Trump campaign official referenced in the NPA as being in the room with Cohen and AMI CEO David Pecker when the deal to buy the story was made was Mr Trump himself.

Mr Trump admitted he directed the payments, but had no knowledge they were illegal, and that they were made to protect the Trump Organisation, not affect the election.

Cohen says Mr Trump knew they were illegal, but it is not known whether he has proof.

The President then began attacking Cohen’s father-in-law, leading to the lawyer cancelling his public testimony amid allegations of witness tampering.

OBSTRUCTION OR WITNESS TAMPERING

Mr Mueller is also investigating whether Mr Trump obstructed justice in his May 2017 firing of James Comey, after the FBI director refused to drop a probe into Mr Flynn’s false statements about his contact with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

The White House said Mr Comey was fired over his handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails, but Mr Trump later told NBC host Lester Holt the firing was linked to “this Russia thing”.

In July, the New York Times reported that Mr Mueller was also examining whether Mr Trump tampered with the special counsel’s witnesses either privately or in tweets attacking former Attorney-General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation.

Mr Trump threatened to fire Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, suggested Mr Comey should be investigated, and tried to push senior officials including then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo into shutting down the FBI probe.

The Times reported in August that former White House counsel Don McGahn — who was present for many of the events Mr Mueller is examining for possible obstruction — had provided 30 hours of testimony.

Mr McGahn witnessed the Comey firing and the President drafting a letter on his reasons, Mr Trump’s interactions with Mr Sessions and his reported attempts to fire Mr Mueller.

While each of these actions alone may not amount to obstruction of justice, taken together they could show a pattern of behaviour aimed at affecting the Russia probe.

THE INAUGURATION

Federal prosecutors in the Justice Department’s Southern District of New York issued a wide-ranging subpoena on Monday seeking documents related to spending and donations by Mr Trump’s 2017 inauguration committee — including possible foreign contributions, which would be illegal.

Prosecutors are probing whether committee misspent any of the record $US107 million it raised, or offered special access in return for donations to donors including Los Angeles venture capitalist Imaad Zuberi.

The inquiry could look at possible conspiracy to defraud the United States, mail fraud, false statements, wire fraud and money laundering., according to The Washington Post.

The inaugural committee’s fundraising operation was headed by former deputy Trump campaign manager Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty in Mr Mueller’s Russia investigation.

The White House has insisted the probe into the inaugural committee has “absolutely nothing to do with the President.”

TRUMP’S TAX RETURNS

The House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee held a hearing on Thursday on obtaining Mr Trump’s tax returns. Unlike previous presidents, Mr Trump has refused to make these public.

Committee chairman Elijah Cummings said Mr Trump “has to be accountable” about his finances.

“It’s not about partisan investigations,” said Mr Cummings. “We all have to be accountable. And it’s a new day.”

Former New York AG Barbara Underwood urged the IRS and the Federal Election Commission to look into whether his charity broke tax laws.

The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance is investigating whether there is enough evidence to refer charges against Trump Foundation executives to the AG’s office for prosecution.

Incoming New York AG Letitia James said she will investigate Mr Trump and his business on a number of fronts, including alleged tax evasion and aggressive pursuit of tax breaks. The Times reported that his father Fred gave hundreds of millions of dollars to his children through tax scheme — but this could fall outside the statute of limitations.

THE BUSINESS

On December 18, Mr Trump said he would dissolve his charity after the New York AG’s office alleged “persistently illegal conduct”, including interactions with the 2016 campaign and his business.

The lawsuit seeks $US2.8 million in restitution and a temporary ban on Mr Trump and his three eldest children from serving on the boards of New York charitable foundations.

The AGs of Maryland and Washington, DC, have subpoenaed financial records and documents as part of a lawsuit accusing Mr Trump of violating the constitution’s “emoluments” clauses, which prohibit elected officials from personally profiting from office.

It accuses Mr Trump of illegally profiting from his presidency through business deals with state and foreign governments using his hotels and restaurants.

New Jersey officials are reportedly investigating claims that managers at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ provided undocumented workers with fraudulent green cards and social security numbers.

Victoria Morales and Sandra Diaz alleged in the Times that their bosses helped them obtain forged documents. Their lawyer said he has referred the matter to the FBI and state investigators.

Thousands of students also claimed they were defrauded by the profit-making real estate course Trump University — but this is unlikely to go further after a federal judge in April approved a $US25 million settlement.

‘BEYOND RUSSIA’

House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff on Wednesday announced a wide-ranging new investigation into Russian election meddling and Mr Trump’s foreign financial interests.

Mr Schiff said the probe would look at Russian intervention in the 2016 election, “any links and/or co-ordination” between Russians and Trump associates, whether foreign parties have attempted to influence the President or his circle, and any obstruction.

“We’re going to do our jobs, and the President needs to do his,” Mr Schiff said, noting the probe will go beyond Russia to include Saudi Arabia and other countries.

Mr Trump attacked him as a “political hack” who has “no basis to do that”, calling the investigation “presidential harassment”.

But Mr Schiff responded: “Our job involves making sure that the policy of the United States is being driven by the national interest, not by any financial entanglement, financial leverage or other form of compromise.”

The committee also voted on Wednesday to send all transcripts from the panel’s Russia investigations to Mr Mueller, after Republicans ended the probe in March, concluding there was no evidence of conspiracy or collusion.

The documents will include transcripts of interviews with Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, former Trump communications aide Hope Hicks and former bodyguard Keith Schiller.



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