Michael Flynn will reportedly plead the Fifth Amendment and refuse to cooperate with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into cooperation between Russia and the Trump campaign. This is hardly a surprise. Flynn’s lawyers need to negotiate with prosecutors, not blowhard politicians.
In other news, reporters Kevin Hall and Nicholas Nehamas of McClatchy have a piece today on the likelihood that the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller will look extensively at business activities and real estate holdings of The Trump Organization. As a casual observer, I think this is actually one of the president’s greatest vulnerabilities, and not necessarily because it will prove collusion or cooperation between his campaign and the Russian government.
Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold recently won a Pulitzer Prize for his exhaustive exposure of Trump’s fraudulent philanthropic endeavors. Had Trump not become the president, he would have likely been in court quite often trying to defend his actions on that front. As it is, he had to pay a settlement on his fraudulent Trump University scheme. His business empire offers a rich menu for any prosecutor, and his best protection may be that Mueller is somewhat constricted in what he can pursue. Order No. 3915-2017 authorizes Mueller to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated” with the Trump campaign and “any matter that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” That might prevent Mueller from going too far off the reservation, but it might not. If he discovers felonious behavior in the routine analysis of Trump’s business operation, that would arguably still be a matter that arose directly from the investigation.
As for Trump’s more straightforward yet less certain vulnerabilities, the article lists some obvious inquiries:
Any look at Trump’s business dealings with Russians would likely include his trophy properties in South Florida, which include the Trump National Doral golf club.
Mueller’s investigators may ask whether either Mar-a-Lago, the historic getaway for the wealthy in Palm Beach, or Trump National, an 800-acre resort roughly 12 miles west of downtown Miami, was used to host meetings between Trump associates and Russian operatives.
McClatchy reported last month that foreign leaders have used Mar-a-Lago to conduct under-the-radar meetings with Trump since his election. In April, two former Colombian presidents secretly met Trump there to discuss the peace process in their home country. The meeting was not on the president’s schedule or disclosed to reporters.
Wealthy Russians could have sought access to Trump by seeking membership at Mar-a-Lago. The exclusive club doubled its membership fee to $200,000 after Trump’s election.
A look into Russian dealings could include Trump’s sale of his Palm Beach mansion to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev in July 2008 for $95 million. That price was viewed by real estate experts as wildly inflated, leading to speculation that perhaps it was a backdoor investment in other Trump businesses, something the president has vehemently denied.
Before the financial crisis, Trump also licensed his name to six condo towers north of Miami Beach that attracted substantial Russian investment. The area of Sunny Isles has come to be known sarcastically as Moscow on the Beach because of so many Russian buyers.
A Reuters review of property records in March found Russians had invested nearly $100 million in Trump-branded Florida properties.
“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr. famously said at a real estate conference in 2008, according to multiple news outlets.
Over the weekend, I wrote about the news that Michael Caputo has been called to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. He’s an interesting character and you should keep your eye on this less celebrated part of the puzzle.
Also, for those of you who can’t enough of this stuff, Lawyers for Good Government has put together a 33-year-long timeline of Trump’s connections to Russia. You’ll have time to peruse it because James Comey isn’t testifying until after Memorial Day.