Thursday afternoon, the New York Times published an explosive report revealing that special counsel Robert Mueller had subpoenaed documents from the Trump Organization, “including some related to Russia.” The subpoenas bring Mueller’s investigation, which has already resulted in the indictment of Trump’s former campaign manager and national security adviser, even closer to the president.
One way to get a sense of the White House reaction to this revelation is to turn on Fox News.
Immediately after the report, Fox News turned to its chief intelligence correspondent, Catherine Herridge. Herridge revealed she had already spoken to Trump’s lawyers about the the New York Times report. She then articulated a harsh criticism of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Herridge noted that it has already been reported that Mueller has been investigating whether the United Arab Emirates tried to financially influence the Trump campaign. This, Herridge claimed, meant that Mueller had already exceeded the authority granted to him by the Justice Department.
She then set her sights on Rod Rosenstein. “Every time Mr. Mueller goes beyond that mandate,” Herridge said, “it’s not like he’s a rogue actor. He has to get the permission of the deputy attorney general. What we know is that he’s had Rod Rosenstein’s permission to go beyond that original mandate…”
Herridge suggested the subpoenas could indicate another expansion of the investigation approved by Rosenstein.
Herridge’s narrow reading of the order appointing Mueller as special counsel does not match its text. Mueller’s appointment gives him express authority to investigate “any links and/or coordination bet ween the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
So if, in the course of investigating links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, Mueller discovered an issue related to the Trump Organization, he’d have the authority to investigate that. Further, a provision of the special counsel law, 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(b), allows Mueller to bring matters beyond his original jurisdiction to Rosenstein and get permission to pursue them. It’s unclear if that was necessary in this case, but if it happened, it doesn’t mean Rosenstein did anything wrong. He would be acting in a manner totally consistent with the statute.
Trump, however, has said that any investigation into his business activities by Mueller would cross a “red line.”
Hugh Hewitt, a conservative pundit with close ties to the administration, also used the New York Times report as a way to attack Rosenstein and suggest Trump should fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
I support retaining, giving SC Mueller all he needs. But DAG Rosenstein owes public a status report on where this is going. And if refuses that does give @realDonaldTrump an argument why he needs a new AG to at least brief public much of which skeptical. https://t.co/Yqth7lAHTt
— Hugh Hewitt (@hughhewitt) March 15, 2018
Trump is reportedly still angry at Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, which set off a chain of events that ultimately gave Rosenstein the authority to appoint Mueller. Trump has openly attacked Sessions on Twitter, and there have been persistent rumors that he is considering firing Sessions as part of a strategy to hem in or end the Mueller investigation.