The special counsel’s order is the first known instance of the special counsel demanding records directly related to President Donald Trump’s businesses.
WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization in recent weeks to turn over documents, including some related to Russia, according to two people briefed on the matter. The order is the first known instance of the special counsel demanding records directly related to President Donald Trump’s businesses, bringing the investigation closer to the president.
The breadth of the subpoena was not clear, nor was it clear why Mueller issued it instead of simply asking for the documents from the company, an umbrella organization that encompasses Trump’s business ventures. Mueller ordered the Trump Organization to hand over records related to Russia and other topics he is investigating, the people said.
The subpoena is the latest indication that the investigation, which Trump’s lawyers once regularly assured him would be completed by now, will continue for at least several more months. Word of the subpoena came as Mueller appears to be broadening his inquiry to examine the role foreign money may have played in funding Trump’s political activities. In recent weeks, Mueller’s investigators have questioned witnesses, including an adviser to the United Arab Emirates, about the flow of Emirati money into the United States.
Mueller has indicted 13 Russians and three companies accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, and on Thursday, the Trump administration included them in sanctions it leveled at Russia as punishment for interference in the campaign and “malicious cyberattacks.”
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The Trump Organization has typically complied with requests from congressional investigators for documents for their own inquiries into Russian election interference, and there was no indication the company planned to fight Mueller’s order.
“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,” said Alan Futerfas, a lawyer representing the Trump Organization. “This is old news, and our assistance and cooperation with the various investigations remains the same today.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated during her daily briefing that the president was cooperating with the inquiry and referred further questions to the Trump Organization.
There are few other publicly known examples of Mueller using subpoenas. In January, he ordered the president’s former chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, to appear before a grand jury. Mueller dropped the subpoena after Bannon agreed to be interviewed by investigators.
Mueller could run afoul of a line the president has warned him not to cross. Though it is not clear how much of the subpoena is related to Trump’s business outside ties to Russia, Trump told The New York Times in July that the special counsel would be crossing a red line if he looked into his family’s finances beyond any relationship with Russia. The president declined to say how he would respond if he concluded that the special counsel had crossed that line.
Trump campaigned as a businessman whose deal-making prowess would translate directly into reforming Washington. The argument helped propel him to the White House, but the Trump Organization has been a magnet for criticism from Democrats, ethics watchdogs and some Republicans, who expressed concern that he remained vulnerable to conflicts of interest because he did not separate from the company.
Before Trump was sworn in, he pledged that he would stay uninvolved in his businesses while in office but insisted it would be too punitive for his business partners for him to divest from the company altogether.
Among the Trump Organization’s holdings are golf clubs, hotels and licensing agreements for the use of the Trump name on properties and other products. While its holdings are complex, the company has always been run like a small, family-owned business; Trump brought in his three eldest children to help run the enterprise.
The Trump Organization is not publicly held, making it difficult to determine where it receives its money and invests it. The company has said it never had real-estate holdings in Russia, but witnesses recently interviewed by Mueller have been asked about a possible real-estate deal in Moscow.
In 2015, a longtime business associate of Trump’s, Felix Sater, emailed Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, at his Trump Organization account claiming that he had ties to President Vladimir Putin of Russia and that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would help Trump’s presidential campaign. Trump signed a nonbinding letter of intent for the project in 2015 and discussed it at least three times with Cohen.
A comment about Russia by Eric Trump, the president’s middle son, also drew scrutiny when it emerged last year. James Dodson, a longtime golf writer from North Carolina, said offhand in a radio interview that Eric Trump, who oversees the golf courses for the Trump Organization, told him in 2013 that the Trumps relied on Russian investors to back their golf clubs. Eric Trump has denied those remarks.
Mueller was appointed in May to investigate whether Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the 2016 election and any other matters that may arise from the inquiry.
A month later, the White House counsel, Donald McGahn, threatened to quit after Trump asked him to have Mueller fired because the president believed he had conflict-of-interest issues that precluded him from running the special-counsel investigation.
Mueller is also examining whether the president has tried to obstruct the investigation.
Trump’s lawyers are in negotiations with Mueller’s office about whether and how to allow his investigators to interview the president. Mueller’s office has shared topics it wants to discuss with the president, according to two people familiar with the talks. The lawyers have advised Trump to refuse an interview, but the president has said he wants to do it, as he believes he has done nothing wrong and can easily answer investigators’ questions.
At the same time, Trump is considering whether to bring on a new lawyer to help represent him in the special counsel’s investigation. Last week, Trump spoke with Emmet Flood, a longtime Washington lawyer who represented former President Bill Clinton during the impeachment process, about coming into the White House to deal with the inquiry.