Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani is providing a service to the nation. Honestly, there is little more a special counsel could want more than an attorney who regularly appears on television to confirm that their client engaged in paying off porn stars, staging a cover-up from Air Force One, and just generally lying, lying, lying. But Giuliani also serves by putting his finger directly on Donald Trump’s sore spots. That’s certainly true in the letter Trump’s attorney’s drafted to Robert Mueller on Wednesday, in which they got very explicit about where Trump does not want to go.
According to Axios, Trump’s legal team would like to add two more definitive items to the “no-go” zone before they agree to let Trump wander into the same room as the special counsel. They don’t want Mueller asking why Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, and they don’t want Mueller to inquire why Trump asked Comey to go easy on former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
If this sounds a bit like a thief suggesting that he would answer any questions except those concerned with why he was in the bank holding a gun, and why he handed the teller a note … it’s because it is. Giuliani and all of Trump’s legal team are aware that—despite protests that Trump was operating within his Article Two powers—these are areas where Trump was directly interfering in an investigation that might lead directly to his own door. In attempting to short circuit the investigation of Flynn, Trump was trying to stamp out at least a thread of the investigation in its early stages, and in firing Comey, he was hoping to end the whole thing.
But as silly as these request sound … Mueller may agree to them. After all, reports are that Mueller intends to follow DOJ guidelines against indicting Trump. If that’s true, then he’s building a political case that can stand up to scrutiny in the House, rather than a legal case that can sway a jury. With House Republicans ready to give Trump a pass on almost anything, a little muddy Article Two hand-waving is likely to cover anything related to Comey.
And surrendering these areas of questioning by no means absolves Trump of facing charges of obstruction. From Twitter appeals to Jeff Sessions to the excuse note he drafted on Air Force One, Trump has done plenty to demonstrate obstruction. If Mueller wants to bring up Trump’s interactions with Comey, he has Comey’s testimony to cover those encounters.
The bigger concern is what other things Mueller may have already agreed to leave off his list. Because the item most likely to get Donald Trump is the one that is also most likely to get Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen: Tax fraud.
When talking about Manafort a week ago, Trump compared his treatment in jail to that of notorious gangster Al Capone. But there’s a reason to think about Manafort along with Capone that has nothing to do with the size of their respective cells.
Capone, despite all his other crimes, eventually went away for tax fraud. And what the trial of Paul Manafort has made most clear so far is that Russian oligarchs consistently slipped payments to Manafort that he recorded as “loans” for no purpose other than to avoid paying taxes.
Manafort’s history had long included a mysterious $18 million that was supposedly loaned to him to buy a television station. Only the station was not even for sale, Manafort never tried to buy it, and the money just … disappeared. Disappeared in the form of ostrich jackets and a string of Mercedes.
This same kind of tax fraud, one long favored by money-launderers of all stripes, is what’s most likely waiting for Michael Cohen. And if you’ve wondered just what is in those taxes that Trump doesn’t want to release, this is most likely what he’s covering up. Trump didn’t just get bailed out of bankruptcy by money flowing from Russian mobsters, he probably reported much of that money as “loans” rather than “income.” Because, as Trump has explained many times, he’s “very, very smart” so he never pays any taxes.
The request from Giuliani may seem ridiculous. Because it is. But even if Mueller grants this request, it’s not going to save Trump.