Special Counsel Robert Mueller is taking a significant step in the Russian meddling investigation.
The Daily Beast has reported that Mueller’s team has begun collaborating with the IRS to investigate President Donald Trump’s finances. Trump has previously implied that he would consider an investigation into his finances to be unacceptable.
According the The Daily Beast, sources with knowledge of the investigation, Mueller has sought the assistance of agents from the IRS’ Criminal Investigations (CI) unit. This unit is considered to be one of the federal government’s most specialized investigative agencies. When Mueller was a U.S. attorney, he enjoyed working with CI.
If the Criminal Investigations unit is involved in the Russia probe, it could present a problem to President Trump or his associates. Additionally, the agency would have access to Trump’s tax returns. Since the White House has already experienced a high number of incidents involving leaks, it’s possible that the public could see the president’s tax returns after all.
A primary focus of Mueller’s investigation is financial crimes. Many believe that the reason for the investigation into Trump’s finances is a result of the absence of evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian intelligence to influence the results of the 2016 election.
Martin Sheil, a retired Criminal Investigations agent stated that the CI is a more appropriate choice for looking into the president’s finances. He stated,
“The FBI’s expertise is spread out over so many statutes—and particularly since 9/11, where they really focused on counterintelligence and counterterror—that they simply don’t have the financial investigative expertise that the CI agents have.”
He also said, “When CI brings a case to a U.S. Attorney, it is done. It’s wrapped up with a ribbon and a bow. It’s just comprehensive.”
While some might believe that a collaboration between Mueller’s team and the IRS could cause trouble for the Trump administration, this might not be the case. The Daily Beast states that the collaboration could be marred by political complications. Many on the right have already criticized the special counsel because Mueller hired a significant number of Democratic donors. This could raise suspicions that the investigation is being influenced by political motivations.
Furthermore, the IRS has already shown that it is willing to unfairly target conservatives. Under the Obama administration, they honed in on conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. The IRS was disproportionately investigating groups related to the Tea Party and other conservative organizations — making it harder for them to gain their tax-exempt status.
Another factor that could cause trouble for the Trump administration is the fact that the president has not appointed an Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Tax Division. This presents a problem because Mueller needs approval from the Tax Division in order to press charges against Trump or any of his associates. A former Tax Division prosecutor said,
“The fact that there is not a senate-confirmed Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division, and that the Trump people have disregarded it despite warnings as far back as December that they needed to fill the AAG’s spot… shows what a self-created mess the Trump administration has found itself in.”
President Trump would have been wise to choose his own official to run the Tax Division. Since it is now being run by career professionals, there is no guarantee that the division will be willing to ensure that Mueller’s team is behaving fairly in the investigation. While it is possible that this mistake may not come back to haunt the president, it should be a source of concern. Of course, there is no malfeasance on the president’s part, so he ultimately has nothing to worry about. Either way, this latest development shows that the special counsel may be looking for wrongdoing, even if has nothing to do with Russia. Mueller is really overstepping his boundaries.