the national interest

Robert Mueller Has Trump and Family in His Crosshairs

President Donald Trump talks with Jared Kushner as they attend a Hanukkah reception in the White House on December 7, 2017. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Over the last day, three new reports have come out about Robert Mueller’s investigation. Yesterday evening, CNN reported that Jared Kushner has not been able to obtain a security clearance due to the Russia investigation. (This confirmed what had been strongly implied by a Washington Post report from last week, that “significant information requiring additional investigation” was holding up Kushner. CNN confirms that the new information is related to Mueller’s probe.) This morning, CNN reported Mueller is asking witnesses about Trump’s business in Russia before his presidential run, including compromising information Russia may have had on Trump. And this afternoon, NBC reports Mueller is asking associates of Trump whether he knew about Russian hacking of Democratic emails.

It is always hard to discern exactly what any of these glimpses into the investigation reveal. As has been the case throughout, every leak appears to come from the defense side. Mueller’s team seems completely leakproof, and his indictments have often come as a surprise to everybody else.

More importantly, the fact Mueller is asking a question does not mean he will get an incriminating answer. Questioning witnesses about a potential crime is not the same as seeking an indictment (and an indictment, of course, is not a conviction).

So what can we take away? One safe conclusion is that the investigation is probably not near done. Another is that Trump and his family are not safe. Mueller has only so far charged people outside Trump’s family — his campaign manager, national security adviser, and 13 Russian internet trolls — which the president and his defenders have weirdly treated as a kind of vindication.

The big picture is that, after Trump burned enough creditors that American banks stopped dealing with him, he became deeply reliant on Russian capital. The Russian economy is deeply connected to Vladimir Putin, and uses its leverage to advance political goals. For instance, Vnesheconombank, which works closely with Putin, financed a Trump hotel in Toronto. Trump’s finances are totally opaque, and he has been willing to endure a great deal of critical media coverage — the thing he most hates in the world — in order to avoid publishing his tax returns.

Kushner is also an important figure. He has his own web of business ties with Russia, and had assumed a lead role in communicating with the Russians secretly. Remember the secret backchannel he conducted with Russia during the transition, designed to elude American intelligence? If a new development arose in recent weeks, that probably bodes poorly for the president’s son-in-law.

Meanwhile, as Steve Bannon sloppily confessed, after Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting with a Russian promising dirt on Hillary Clinton in June 2016, it is overwhelmingly likely that he proceeded immediately to tell the father whose approval is the thing he most craves. That may or may not be provable by Mueller. But he is certainly going to try.

Update: The resignation of White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, the day after her House testimony on the Russia investigation, may or may not have any relation to what Hicks knows about Russia. But Hicks has a quasi-familial role, as one of the few genuine Trump loyalists (whose bond with the president is personal, not professional or ideological). Who knows if she knows anything pertinent, or plans to share it with the FBI?

Robert Mueller Has Trump and Family in His Crosshairs