In a salty post-election press conference in which he seemed to relish the opportunity to savage members of his own party for losing elections after failing to warm to his “embrace,” President Donald Trump faced the specter of the House of Representatives falling into Democratic Party hands — and the looming possibility of increased scrutiny of his presidency.
Seemingly not far from his mind during that press conference was the ongoing investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller. The future of that inquiry — which many expected might soon lead to indictments of the president’s eldest son — is now in doubt with the resignation of U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions, and the ascension of a avowed Mueller critic, Matthew Whitaker, into the acting-AG role. Perhaps not surprisingly, Trump seeded the earth with pretexts for firing Mueller and ending the investigation.
But one of those pretexts seemed awfully thin: The intimation that the investigation itself has been unduly costly to taxpayers. “This is an investigation where many many millions of dollars have been spent,” Trump complained at Wednesday’s presser, adding, “I think it’s very bad for our country…I think it’s a shame.”
"I could have ended it anytime I wanted. I didn't. And there was no collusion….this is a investigation where many many millions of dollars have been spent," Trump says of Mueller. "I think it's very bad for our country, I'll tell you. I think its' a shame."
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) November 7, 2018
But one of the more remarkable things about the Mueller investigation, at least so far, is that it hasn’t added any costly burdens to American taxpayers. In fact, it seems to be a generator of revenue.
For that, we have Paul Manafort to thank.
As CNBC’s Tucker Higgins and Jordan Malter reported in September, part of the plea deal that Mueller’s team reached with Manafort required the one-man crime syndicate to forfeit assets, the value of which was estimated to be “between $42 and $46 million.” The assets forfeited included a handful of real estate properties and a sizable amount of cash from his bank accounts and his life insurance policy. “Mueller,” they wrote, “may have also paid for his own investigation.”
Higgins and Malter go on to note that while the money seized from these asset forfeitures will not go directly to funding the Mueller investigation, it will nevertheless end up in the government’s coffers, thus heading off a “central criticism that Trump and his allies have levied against the inquiry.” Such critics, they report, routinely complain about the money wasted on the investigation. In June, President Trump complained about how “the Russian Hoax Investigation has now cost our government over $17 million” on Twitter. A Republican colleague, Rep. Louie Gohmert, said that Mueller had “absolutely blown taxpayer dollars” that same month.
Nevertheless, the $42 million coming in from the Manafort seizures resolutely refuses to be a smaller amount the $16.7 million spent between May of 2017 and March of 2018, according to the Department of Justice’s statement of expenditures released in May. And it remains likely that Mueller’s expenses since then have still not been greater to the amount seized in Manafort’s kitty.
As far as pretexts for ending the Mueller investigation go, the notion that it has been uniquely costly to taxpayers doesn’t add up — unless we are referring to one in particular, Paul Manafort.
Of course, given the fact that Manafort was convicted on multiple counts of tax fraud, it may even be too charitable to call him a “taxpayer.”