One of the more interesting things that came out of news that the FBI raided the home of former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in late July was Trump’s rather restrained reaction–at least by his standards. When news of the raid broke, Trump merely said that it was “a very strong signal.” Given Trump’s very public feuding with the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller over the scope of the ongoing investigation into Russia’s hacking of the election, it came as something of a surprise that the news of the raid wasn’t accompanied by a 140-character rant from Trump.
However, there may be a very good reason for such a muted response from Trump. Hours after word of the raid got out, former Justice Department spokesman and current MSNBC justice and security analyst Matthew Miller suggested on Twitter that it’s very likely Mueller has gotten his hands on what may be the most sought-after prize in American politics–Trump’s tax returns.
Every sign we've seen to date shows Mueller moving very aggressively. Think it's safe to assume he's already gotten Trump's tax returns.
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) August 9, 2017
There were already a lot of reasons why Trump should be nervous about his former campaign chief getting an early wake-up call. According to The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, we have to wonder if Mueller and the FBI weren’t just looking into shady financial doings on Manafort’s part, but also “possible cooperation between the campaign and Russian officials.” She also speculated that Mueller was leaning heavily on Manafort to flip.
Rubin also wondered if Mueller either had Trump’s tax returns, or was about to obtain them. And now Miller suggests that Mueller indeed has the returns. If that’s the case, we may be on the verge of the first detailed review of Trump’s business practices. Not only could we know how indebted he is to the Kremlin, but we could also get a look at how much foreign money is still flowing into his bank account in apparent violation of the Emoluments Clause.
It’s very likely that Mueller is already getting a look at the broad lines of Trump’s business practices. After all, Trump’s longtime banker, Deutsche Bank, has reportedly been cooperating with the investigation. Deutsche Bank was one of the few banks willing to work with Trump after his six bankruptcies, and almost certainly knows as much about how he does business than anyone. It is equally certain that Deutsche Bank would be able to provide the clearest picture of Trump’s finances short of getting his tax returns. Now comes word that Mueller may have pulled off the federal investigator’s equivalent of winning the lottery.
Despite the explosive nature of this potential find, Miller’s observation hasn’t gotten much traction. It might be because the only American outlet to pick it up so far has been Palmer Report, a left-leaning site with a reputation for churning out sketchy and thinly-sourced stories. When you have at least four stories flagged by Snopes, not many people are going to take you seriously. It’s too bad, because if anyone knows how federal investigations work, it’s Miller. He was the Justice Department’s lead spokesman for most of Eric Holder’s tenure as attorney general. From the looks of it, Palmer Report looks like the boy who cried wolf.
If it does turn out that Mueller has gotten his hands on Trump’s tax returns, don’t expect to find out about it any time soon. For one thing, Mueller kept an extremely tight lid on its progress, with details coming out only when it is too late for Trump and the pro-Trump media machine to do anything about it.
More importantly, it’s going to take awhile to plumb the workings of Trump’s labyrinthine finances. But if it takes awhile, that’s a good thing. A good investigation, especially a complex financial investigation like this one, is supposed to work like a slow-motion strangulation. That is, a prosecutor painstakingly amasses the evidence until the defendant would have to have a death wish to go to trial. But if anyone is up to that task, it’s Mueller.
Trump already had a lot of reasons to be nervous at how close this investigation was getting to him. But if Mueller has his returns, at the very least it’s time to schedule auditions for the fat lady.
(featured image courtesy Obama White House, part of public domain)