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Mueller Reportedly Subpoenas Trump Business Records

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This week began with Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee declaring that their investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election was closed. But special counsel Robert Mueller's probe took another step forward. Reports emerged yesterday that Mueller has subpoenaed records from The Trump Organization. It's apparently his first official demand for information connected to the president's businesses. Michael Schmidt of The New York Times reported on this, and he joins us. Good morning, Michael.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me.

GREENE: Thanks for coming on. Do we know exactly what Muller is asking for here?

SCHMIDT: We know that there were many search terms in this subpoena that was sent to The Trump Organization, the umbrella company in which all the different business entities that Trump owns are a part of. We know that some of their requests related to Russia. But beyond that, we don't know much more. The thing that is significant to us about this is that the president's lawyers had said in the final months of last year that the investigation would be over by then. And here we are in March learning about new subpoenas.

GREENE: Doesn't look like it's over. Why a subpoena? Mueller didn't have to necessarily use a subpoena. Couldn't he have just demanded this information from The Trump Organization?

SCHMIDT: He could have asked for the documents. So we know that Mueller has asked different folks for different things without a subpoena. But if you ask for a subpoena, it sort of makes it ironclad. It makes it clear that you have to hand everything over. And it leaves no doubt in Mueller's mind that he has all the documents that he needs. Remember, with special counsels, they want to turn over every rock possible because they don't want to someday close up shop and then find out that there were things that they missed.

GREENE: That they missed something, yeah.

SCHMIDT: So they're going to want to go out and get every document, everything and make sure they've - they know about every little possible lead that has been run down.

GREENE: Is there any precedent for this, for a special counsel looking beyond a president's official duties and really digging into his businesses and other connections?

SCHMIDT: I don't know whether that - I think that all of this has a nexus back to the original mandate that Mueller has, which is to look at ties between Trump's associates and Russia and anything that may arise of it. Obviously, that is sort of broad, especially the part that says anything that may arise of it. I know - we know in the case of Bill Clinton that they looked at the Whitewater deal. That was obviously something that happened before he got to the White House, so I'm not sure it's that unusual. But the president has said that his personal finances unrelated to Russia are something that are off limits. We don't have evidence that this is unrelated to Russia yet, but it is certainly headed in a direction that the president has said he's - you know, that he does not want Mueller looking at.

GREENE: Oh, this is interesting because he actually said that in an interview with you guys - right? - The New York Times, saying that it would be a red line if Mueller went into his businesses beyond Russia. So if that's happening and if the president considers this a red line, what would happen next? I mean, could The Trump Organization in theory refuse to turn over some documents that Mueller wants?

SCHMIDT: Well, the president sets different lines and then I think doesn't always follow through on what he says he will. Sometimes he wants to get rid of people and he doesn't. So I'm not sure what it means, a red line, to this president. Obviously, to the previous president, Barack Obama, a red line was something else as well. So I'm not sure how much weight that we can put in it. The president was explicit in saying, well - well, the president said, look, they're - if they are looking into my finance - family's finances beyond Russia, that will be a problem. All we know is that some of this relates to Russia. So we're not sure if that has entered into that territory. The president is deeply skeptical of Mueller looking at things that are not directly related to Russia questions. We're not there yet, but you can see where we're headed up to that line.

GREENE: All right. Michael Schmidt, a reporter for The New York Times, talking to us about Robert Mueller's latest move in his investigation of Russian election meddling. Michael, thanks a lot. We appreciate it.

SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.