President Donald Trump’s private company scrambled Thursday to show it has long been cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators in response to a media report that it had gotten a new subpoena for documents tied to the Russia probe.
The New York Times first reported that Mueller in recent weeks made the formal demand to the Trump Organization to turn over materials related to its investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign in 2016.
While Trump officials refused to confirm or deny the existence of a new subpoena, the company’s lead outside attorney, Alan Futerfas, responded in a statement: “Since July 2017, we have advised the public that the Trump Organization is fully cooperative with all investigations, including the Special Counsel, and is responding to their requests. This is old news and our assistance and cooperation with the various investigations remains the same today.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred questions Thursday about a subpoena back to the Trump Organization. “We’re going to continue to fully cooperate out of respect for the special counsel,” she said.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller’s special counsel, declined comment.
A subpoena from Mueller to the Trump Organization may signal a significant escalation of its probe, law enforcement experts said. It also threatens to further agitate Trump, who told The New York Times last July that he would consider it “a violation” if the special counsel’s office looked into his personal finances.
One of Trump’s personal attorneys, Jay Sekulow, told POLITICO last November that he would lodge formal objections with either Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if the Russia probe shifted into issues like an old Trump real-estate deal.
“We’d view that as outside the scope of legitimate inquiry,” Sekulow said. “We’d raise it.”
Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney from eastern Michigan, said the president’s warning about crossing into his finances was unlikely to faze Mueller. “No responsible prosecutor could effectively investigate links between Russia and the Trump campaign without examining the financial records of all related entities, such as the Trump Organization, Trump himself and close family members and associates,” she said.
McQuade added that a Mueller subpoena to the president’s private company would signal a shift in tone for the special prosecutor since failure to comply can be met with a contempt order.
“Serving a subpoena as opposed to asking the Trump Organization to voluntarily produce records could be significant because it suggests that Mueller does not trust the organization to voluntarily comply with an informal request, which he has used for other witnesses,” she said. “Use of a subpoena also strengthens a claim of obstruction of justice if it is later determined that the recipient failed to produce all requested records.”
The Trump Organization has been under scrutiny in the Russia probes since their start. The special counsel’s prosecutors requested White House documents last summer and interviewed several witnesses in the fall and winter about a statement written aboard Air Force One defending a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials, including Donald Trump Jr., who now runs the company along with his brother Eric Trump, and Russians who were promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Congressional investigators have also questioned Trump Jr., as well as longtime Trump Organization officials including personal secretary Rhona Graff and one of its former attorneys, Michael Cohen, who now serves as a personal attorney for the president.
But House Intelligence Committee Democrats in a memo issued Tuesday complained that Republicans hadn’t given the president’s company a close enough examination. The minority lawmakers said a subpoena may be necessary for telephone records between the Trump Organization and Trump to determine if there had been discussions between Donald Trump Jr. and his father concerning the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
Democrats complained that Republicans have also ignored their requests for interviews with Trump Organization officials including attorney Alan Garten and chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg. They’ve also have previously requested an interview with Eric Trump, a key adviser from the 2016 campaign.