Trump’s legal team prepares to take on Mueller on Russia probe | world news | Hindustan Times
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Trump’s legal team prepares to take on Mueller on Russia probe

There are growing concerns in the White House that Mueller could go beyond the Russia interference and investigate Trump and his family’s business and financial dealings.

world Updated: Jul 21, 2017 22:16 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US President Donald Trump,special counsel Robert Mueller,White House
File photo of special counsel Robert Mueller.(NYT)

US President Donald Trump’s legal team has begun efforts to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller and his team investigating alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

They are looking for evidence to make a case of conflict of interest against Mueller and members of his team to either discredit them or get them fired, according to multiple news reports not challenged by the White House or, specially, the president, who is quick to denounce “fake news”.

There are growing concerns in the White House that Mueller could go beyond the Russia interference and investigate Trump and his family’s business and financial dealings. A big worry is also Trump’s tax returns that he has refused to release.

Investigators are already looking at Russian purchases in Trump buildings, his involvement in a New York project with Russian associates, taking the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013, and the sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian businessman in 2008, Bloomberg reported, citing a source.

According to The Washington Post, Trump has also asked his advisors and legal team about his powers to pardon his aides, family members and himself. But, an official insisted, Trump was merely expressing curiosity about his pardoning powers.

US presidents can grant “reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States, except in cases of impeachment”. And there is precedence for a president being pardoned — Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor Richard Nixon — but there is none for a president pardoning himself.

The report about Trump’s legal team looking into Mueller came just the day after he publicly warned the special counsel, in an interview to The New York Times, that it would be a “violation” to delve into his and his family business dealings.

He did not specify what he planned to do if the investigators did indeed go that far. But he did indicate there was a conflict of interest case to be made against Mueller and his team. Now reports say his defence lawyers — a constantly evolving team —are collecting information to make that argument, to either shut down the probe or put the investigators on the defensive.

Taking on the special counsel is standard practice, deployed by the Bill Clinton White House in the 1990s to discredit prosecutor Ken Starr, who started by looking at some shady land deals and ended with a sex scandal that led to Clinton’s impeachment.

Trump legal team will likely point to Mueller’s friendship with sacked FBI director James Comey, donations by members of his team to the Democratic party, and a dispute with a Trump-owned golf course of which Mueller was a member many years ago.

But Mueller, himself a former FBI director, is one of the most respected figures in US law enforcement and is held in high regard by both Republicans and Democrats. He is said to have put together a team of heavy-hitters and may not be easily intimidated.

First Published: Jul 21, 2017 22:09 IST