Schiff Plans to Follow the Money

Over the last three years it has become clear that, in order to stay grounded in the reality of the Trump-Russia affair, the voice that has been the most important to listen to is that of Representative Adam Schiff, who now serves as chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Like Robert Mueller, he tends to be a “just the facts, ma’am” throwback, but has also been willing to ask important questions and state his opinions about the facts as they emerge. Nevertheless, he avoids the kind of wild speculation that can lead to conspiracy theories.

Since the release of the Mueller report, Schiff has made it clear that his committee is focused on the counterintelligence probe into whether the president has been compromised by a foreign government, something the special counsel didn’t address.

[A]s I read the [Mueller] report, I was struck by how much was missing: the enormous counterintelligence and national security risks and ramifications of the president’s conduct and those around him…

What did these counterintelligence agents under Mueller’s supervision uncover? What national security vulnerabilities did Russia’s covert campaign expose? Did any Americans present an acute counterintelligence risk? And what steps, if any, have been taken to address these threats?

Counterintelligence investigations differ from criminal investigations in their means, scope and ultimate disposition. Their goal is not successful prosecutions, but to identify and mitigate threats to national security. If a foreign power possessed compromising information on a U.S. government official in a position of influence, that is a counterintelligence risk. If a foreign power possessed leverage, or the perception of it, over the president, that is a counterintelligence nightmare…

Make no mistake — the release of Mueller’s report is a watershed event. Now, it is up to Congress to assure that the president and his associates work for the American people and not for some undisclosed personal or foreign interests.

Schiff has consistently identified the Trump Tower Moscow project, which was underway during the presidential campaign, as a potential source of compromise. But as he made clear during a question-and-answer session on Tuesday, he also plans to follow the money (the relevant portion is from 46:10 to 49:05 of this video).

The prospect that the president is compromised because Russians laundered money through his businesses is not a closed case for Schiff.

If the financial leverage that the Russians hold over the president is not just the dangling of Moscow Trump Tower, but that they’ve been doing business with him for years and laundering money through the business, that could be equally more compromising, since that would be criminal activity. I don’t know that is the base, maybe when we research this, maybe we’ll find it’s not the case. But we have begun that investigation already. We’re already in litigation over Deutsche Bank and other financial records.

As is documented in a report by Open Secrets, the questions go beyond the potential for Russian influence.

Trump’s business entanglements continue to leave him with positions, assets, trademarks and other business interests in more than 30 countries…

Trump transferred control of the family-owned company to his adult children, who he said would pursue “no new deals” during his time in the Oval Office. Although the Trump Organization ended some proposed deals around the world, it has opened several new properties since 2017, with several providing direct income to Trump.

Trump’s sprawling web of foreign properties and investments, which includes some projects completed during his presidency or still under development, reveals a litany of apparent efforts by foreign business leaders and governments to gain influence with the leader of the free world. Some of the developers behind Trump-branded projects are under scrutiny for exploitative business practices. In many of these countries, developers work in close proximity to political power and wealthy businessmen have outsized influence with the government.

In addition to foreign-based business interests, Trump properties in the U.S. have also raked in considerable sums from foreign clientele. Foreign actors looking to influence U.S. policy in several cases have coupled foreign influence efforts with visits to Trump properties.

Investigating whether this president is compromised via his financial interests is not only the most important question on the table, it is obviously the one that Trump fears the most. You might recall that he once said that any attempt to look into his finances would cross a red line. That seemed to affirm one portion of the Steele dossier.

Given the scope of the issue identified by Open Secrets, Schiff has undertaken an enormous task that could be overwhelming for a congressional committee. But while the Judiciary Committee highlights the obstruction of justice that was documented in Mueller’s report, it will be important to keep an eye on the Intelligence Committee as Schiff follows the money.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.