According to the Washington Post, President Donald Trump is now “a major subject of interest” in the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller.
As a “subject of the investigation,” Trump now has his own legal code name: “Individual 1.”
The term “subject of an investigation” has a well-defined meaning. According to the DOJ Handbook, a “subject” is: “a person whose conduct is within the scope of a Grand Jury’s investigation.” A “subject” has engaged in “conduct that may look suspicious or unethical,” but the prosecutor “isn’t certain that a provable crime has been committed” and wants to do more investigating.
By way of contrast, the term “target of an investigation” is used where the prosecutor or Grand Jury has substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime.
The president’s new status as a “subject” came about because of new evidence obtained by Mueller. This evidence relates to two different but equally important lines of investigation, which are:
- Coordination and contacts between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign, and
- Contacts between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign.
Mueller now clearly believes that Trump is a key figure in his investigation into whether his presidential campaign conspired with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign.
The new evidence “casts fresh doubts on Trump’s version of key events involving Russia, signaling potential political and legal peril for the president,” according to the Post.
Investigators now have evidence that Trump was in close contact with his campaign team as they contacted both Russia and WikiLeaks. They also have substantial evidence that they tried to conceal the extent of their contacts with Russia and WikiLeaks, and they continually lied about it.
On Thursday Michael Cohen admitted he lied to Congress when he said that Trump was not trying to build a Trump Tower in Moscow in 2016. This there is now evidence that Trump lied when he said that he had no business interests in Russia.
On Tuesday a special counsel document revealed that Mueller is investigating Trump’s interactions with Roger Stone as he sought information about WikiLeaks’ plans to release stolen Democratic emails in order to harm Hillary Clinton.
According to the Post, “it’s still unclear how much peril the president might face as a result of the new evidence Mueller has gathered about the Moscow project and WikiLeaks, but his prominence in the prosecutors’ papers puts the president in an awkward starring role.”
Former federal prosecutor Glen Kopp said this about the president’s exposure:
“It’s deeply troubling. It’s not a place that anybody wants to be, or where you would want your friends or family to be. And it’s certainly not a place that you would want your president to be.”
Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said Thursday that the president’s written answers to Mueller about the Moscow project are consistent with Cohen’s version of events. Giuliani said the questions discussed a Moscow project, starting in 2015, continuing into 2016, and it went nowhere, he said.
“The president, as far as he knows, he remembers there was such a proposal for a hotel,” Giuliani said. “He talked it over with Cohen as Cohen said. There was a nonbinding letter of intent that was sent. As far as he knows it never came to fruition. That was kind of the end of it.”
But Tim O’Brien, a Trump biographer and frequent critic, said the developments are not good for the president, and may indicate he is facing new risks.
“This is part of the fact pattern that gets to the heart of whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the campaign,” O’Brien said.
“It creates the potential for Trump to feel an obligation to pay back President Putin, or Russia in general that . . . do not put the best interests of American forward.” Kopp added. “You are creating a potential vulnerability for a future leader of America.”
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat in line to become chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, had this to say about the implications of the new evidence implicating the president:
“This is obviously a significant plea and statement. It means that when the president was representing during the campaign that he had no business interests in Russia, that that wasn’t true.”
“If the president and his associates were being untruthful in real time as they were pursuing this deal, what does it mean now about how much we can rely on what the president is saying about any continuing Russian financial interest?”