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Legal Analysis

Here’s Why Mueller May Have Subpoenaed Trump’s Business

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has issued a subpoena to the Trump Organization, according to The New York Times, in order to acquire “documents, including some related to Russia.” If only some of the requested materials are Russia-related, that raises the question of what else Mueller is after.

According to former federal prosecutor and Law&Crime contributor Daniel Goldman, Mueller could be looking at a number of different things in his investigation of Trump Organization records. Primarily, he’s likely to be looking at Trump employees with ties to international business and/or the campaign.

“In order to understand the relationship between Trump, his employees, campaign employees and foreign countries,” Goldman told Law&Crime, Mueller needs to review Trump Organization emails and documents, including financial records.”

But what could these relationships show?

The most obvious thing, of course, is the nature of any pre-campaign business dealings, including any debt the company might have to Russia which could have influenced the campaign. Additionally, Mueller could be looking for information that provides context to various meetings or communications that he’s already aware of.

Mueller could also be looking at Trump Organization emails belonging to people related to the campaign like Donald Trump Jr., regarding any communications or meetings with Russians, like the notorious meeting that Don Jr. had with a Russian attorney.

As far as non-Russia dealings, company emails could also come in handy to shed light on whether the company was involved in payments similar to the one given to Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about an alleged affair she had with Trump. The campaign and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen have already been hit with a complaint that claims they violated federal elections law with that payment, and a recent report said that Cohen used his Trump Organization email account to arrange the payment.

While use of that email itself isn’t evidence of anything, a review of company emails could show whether that payment was indeed illegal, or if there were any payments made to other women that could be legally questionable.

“As we have seen recently from the Stormy Daniels situation,” Goldman said, “we know that employees of the Trump Organization have worked on matters separate from the core business of the company, and have used their Trump Organization emails to do so.”

Goldman says Mueller could also be looking for information regarding any other liabilities the Trump Organization could have to foreign entities.

Of course, with Mueller looking for documents that don’t have to do with Russia, that raises the question: What can’t he subpoena? Can he just demand whatever he wants?

According to Goldman, there’s a fairly broad standard for subpoenas, in that they have to relate to an investigation into specific violations of the law. In theory, Trump could file a motion to quash the subpoena, but that probably wouldn’t work, because all Mueller would have to do is show how the requested documents are connected to the probe. Trump could try to negotiate the subpoena’s scope, but he wouldn’t get very far. He might be able to withhold materials that fall under attorney-client privilege, but that’s about it.

President Donald Trump has said in the past that if Mueller dug into his finances unrelated to Russia, that would cross a “red line,” but with this new subpoena, there’s not much Trump can do about it.

All previous reports have indicated that Trump’s legal team has been very accommodating when it comes to turning over documents to Mueller’s office. A subpoena here could mean that they’ve already refused to turn over these materials, or just that Mueller is worried that Team Trump would refuse, which would mean he’d have to subpoena them anyway. Remember, if the Trump Organization fails to comply with the subpoena, they could be hit with obstruction charges.

Goldman told Law&Crime that he’s surprised it took this long for Mueller to send a subpoena.

“I am frankly surprised that Mueller has not subpoenaed documents from the Trump Organization long ago given the overlapping nature of Trump’s campaign and his business,” he said.

A possible explanation, Goldman said, is that Mueller could have waited to get whatever information he could from other sources, to give him a better idea of exactly what he needs to get from the Trump Organization.

[Image via Andrew Burton/Getty Images]

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