Monday 10 December 2018

Trump allies fear he'll sack special counsel for going after tax returns

President Donald Trump is under investigation by special counsel
Robert Mueller. Photo: PA
President Donald Trump is under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. Photo: PA

Ben Riley Smith in Washington

Donald Trump's allies fear the man leading the Russia investigation is zoning in on his tax returns and could be sacked as a result.

Close former advisers to Mr Trump have revealed they believe Robert Mueller, the special counsel, wants access to his tax information.

Some believe Mr Mueller already has the returns and is using them to investigate Mr Trump's personal business dealings before he became American president.

The documents would likely detail who Mr Trump gives money to, where his bank accounts are held, where he invests and whether he has any debt.

That information could in turn be used to order organisations with financial ties to Mr Trump to hand over relevant documents.

Mr Trump became the first major US presidential candidate for decades not to publish his tax returns during the 2016 election campaign.

The president has previously agreed that Mr Mueller would be crossing a "red line" if he investigated his family finances.

It has led to renewed concerns that Mr Trump could sack Mr Mueller if he believes the special counsel has obtained his returns.

One top former Trump adviser said: "Mueller will go for Trump's tax returns and that is when he gets fired."

Another said: "If the special counsel is subpoenaing Trump Organisation documents, surely he's already got the president's tax records from the IRS [Internal Revenue Service]?"

Getting tax returns is a regular part of white-collar crime investigations, according to legal experts familiar with the process.

They are a useful tool for understanding which organisations an individual is tied to financially. Those bodies in turn can have their documents subpoenaed.

It is understood Mr Mueller would not necessarily have to notify the president before seeing Mr Trump's tax returns and could work directly with the IRS to get access.

There have been growing signs in recent weeks that Mr Mueller, who is looking at Russian election meddling in its entirety, is interested in Mr Trump's business past.

The Trump Organisation, the president's family firm now run by his son, has reportedly received a legal request to hand over documents to the investigation.


Trump sources also believe a number of the questions Mr Mueller provided Mr Trump's legal team with ahead of their much-anticipated interview were about his business activity.

The developments come at a time that the president's legal team is in major flux. His lead lawyer dealing with the special counsel, John Dowd, quit in March amid reported disagreements in approach.

Another lawyer, Joseph diGenova, lasted just days in Mr Trump's team before parting ways. Other top Washington attorneys have rebuffed approaches to work for the president.

Mr Trump's lack of lawyers - just as the Russia investigation enters a critical phase - has spooked allies who fear the president has underestimated what he is up against.

One former adviser said he was recently urged to make finding the president a new stellar lawyer his highest priority, amid fears Mr Trump is overexposed.

Mr Trump's hostility towards Mr Mueller, who he has recently begun attacking by name in tweets for the first time, also appears to be on the rise.

'The New York Times' reported that Mr Trump ordered the firing of Mr Mueller last June but backed down after the White House counsel threatened to resign.

Mr Trump cannot fire Mr Mueller directly but he could order Rod Rosenstein, the US deputy attorney general overseeing the Russia investigation, to do so.

Leading Republicans, including Lindsey Graham, the senator for South Carolina and regular Trump golf partner, have suggested the president would be impeached if he fired Mr Mueller.

Before announcing his election campaign, Mr Trump said he would "absolutely" release his tax returns if he ran for the presidency.

However during the race he refused to, saying they were undergoing an "audit" and would be released once done.

They are yet to be made public.

(© Daily Telegraph London)

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