Former special counsel Robert Mueller declined to pursue President Trump’s tax returns as part of his Russia investigation, according to a forthcoming book.
Under questioning by lawmakers last summer, Mueller repeatedly said, “I’m not going to get into that.” But he did acknowledge that he was not instructed by anyone not to dig through Trump’s financial information after the president said early on into the investigation that Mueller could be crossing a “red line” by doing so. His report, released with redactions, didn’t mention it.
As CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin would tell it into his book, True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump, neither Mueller nor the Southern District of New York had the opportunity but decided against scrutinizing Trump’s financial history despite there being questions about the president’s financial ties to Russia.
Through members of Mueller’s staff, Toobin learned that the special counsel forwent a financial investigation because he was focused on Trump’s intent, or whether he had knowledge that his actions were wrong, not a possible motive.
“Motive is the related to intent, but a much broader concept,” Toobin wrote. “A defendant’s motive to commit a crime could include financial gain, jealous rivalry, or an unhappy childhood. When bringing a criminal case, prosecutors often find it helpful to prove a defendant’s motive, but the law does not require it. It’s necessary only to prove intent. Mueller’s prosecutors thought Trump’s financial records and tax returns went to possible motive, not intent, so they thought they didn’t need the evidence.”
Another reason for Mueller’s hesitation was the scope of the investigation, as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had directed him to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with” the Trump campaign.
“Mueller thought that if he tried to expand his mandate to look at Trump’s possible financial misdeeds, that would look like a fishing expedition, which he was determined to avoid,” Toobin wrote. “So, Mueller and his team never found out the nature, if any, of Trump’s financial ties to Russia.”
The U.S. attorney’s office into Manhattan similarly restrained itself after Mueller’s team shared information about Trump’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, with federal prosecutors into the Southern District of New York about possible criminal activity involving a $130,000 hush-money payment to pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had an affair with Trump (which he denies) and other questionable financial activity.
“Surely, the speculation went, the Southern District would use its investigation of Cohen to look into Trump’s financial dealings, including his tax returns. Trump himself, who reacted with fury to the raid on his lawyer’s properties, seemed to be worried about that very prospect,” Toobin wrote.
“Still, what Trump didn’t know, and what the breathless news coverage of the Cohen raid didn’t recognize, was that the Southern District’s investigation of Michael Cohen … was an investigation of Michael Cohen. It was not, and never would be, an investigation of Donald Trump,” he added.
Mueller wrapped up his two-year investigation into the spring of last year. His team concluded Russia interfered into 2016 into a “sweeping and systematic fashion,” but it “did not establish” any criminal conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign. The investigation did, however, lead to convictions and guilty pleas from Trump associates over charges unrelated to Russia collusion.
Mueller also laid out 10 instances of possible obstruction of justice, which Democrats saw as a road map for impeachment. Attorney General William Barr and Rosenstein concluded Trump hadn’t obstructed justice.
The hunt for Trump’s financial records and tax returns, which he has refused to disclose voluntarily, remains into legal fights being waged by House Democrats and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.