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WASHINGTON — House Democrats hope to revive the public's waning interest in Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Wednesday, when they bring him to Capitol Hill for a good old-fashioned grilling.
But while they've fought internally about how to act on Mueller’s damning conclusions, they’ve actually seen some progress when it comes to investigating Trump in another crucial area: his finances.
Democrats have launched at least nine different investigations aimed at digging into Trump’s banking records, foreign income, insurance history, accounting files and business archives — most recently a lawsuit aimed solely at prying loose his federal tax returns.
With so many probes underway, at least one is bound to get through eventually, legal and financial experts told VICE News. The question is: when?
“At least one of these investigations seems destined to succeed,” said Beverly Moran, a law professor at Vanderbilt University and an expert on federal tax law. “But Trump may be able to delay all of them past the election.”
“At least one of these investigations seems destined to succeed”
So far, Democrats have won almost every major courtroom battle they’ve fought over Trump’s finances, but Trump has continued to stonewall where possible, by filing counter-suits and instructing his former employees not to comply with House Democrats’ demands.
The resulting court battles could take years to play out.
Here’s the state of play.
1. Trump’s federal tax returns
The most recent line of attack was opened up right before the July 4th holiday, when House Democrats launched a new lawsuit aimed at enforcing their subpoena for six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns.
House Ways & Means Committee chairman Richard Neal is seeking the documents under a century-old provision known as Section 6103, which says the Treasury Secretary “shall furnish” any tax returns to Neal.
The House’s case looks very strong, said Martin Sheil, who served over 30 years as an investigator at the IRS.
“It’s inevitable that the House Ways & Means Committee will get the tax returns,” Sheil said.
If that happens, House Democrats would uncover a vast new trove of information, including about Trump’s murky finances and links to deep-pocketed foreign interests in places like Russia and Saudi Arabia.
2. Trump’s accountants
Democrats have subpoenaed records from Trump’s longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, in a case that may be decided by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals this month. Oral arguments took place on July 12.
Democrats want to know whether the stories of financial impropriety at Trump’s family business told by his jailed “fixer,” Michael Cohen, can be backed up by a paper trail.
Mazars likely hold a “treasure trove” of details, Sheil said.
“In my experience doing financial investigations, the accountants’ work papers and files are almost always key to bringing an investigation to a successful conclusion, one way or the other,” he said.
3. Trump’s foreign funds
House Democrats argue Trump shouldn’t be receiving payments from foreign governments while serving as president, and they’ve sued to put a stop to it.
“Our goal is simple and straightforward: stopping President Trump from putting a ‘For Sale’ sign in Russian on the door to the Oval Office”
The case has bounced back and forth between the district and appeals courts, but it could eventually reach the Supreme Court.
“Our goal is simple and straightforward: stopping President Trump from putting a ‘For Sale’ sign in Russian on the door to the Oval Office,” Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who’s led the effort, told VICE News. “We will be seeking a targeted set of documents and testimony to obtain the information that we need.”
4. Trump’s favorite bank
For years, Germany’s Deutsche Bank has been closer to Trump than any other bank, lending or participating in loans to Trump’s businesses totaling $2.5 billion over 17 years.
Much of that was handed over after other Wall Street banks labeled Trump too risky to touch, raising questions about how Trump convinced Deutsche to lend him so much money.
Congressional committees and law enforcement officials are also probing Deutsche’s role in facilitating global money laundering linked to Russia.
House Democrats from the Intelligence and Financial Services committees have subpoenaed Deutsche’s records as part of their investigation into Trump’s ties to foreign money. Trump responded with a countersuit, accusing them of simply trying to “harass” him, and “rummage through every aspect of his personal finances.”
House Democrats won the first round in court when a federal judge dismissed Trump’s suit. Trump appealed, and oral arguments are due later this summer.
5. New York vs. Deutsche Bank
New York Attorney General Letitia James swept into office earlier this year vowing to probe every inch of Trump’s business empire.
Since then, her office has subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank, doubling up on the House efforts to crack open Trump’s favorite lender.
Trump has accused James on Twitter of “harassing” his businesses. She’s fired back that “no one is above the law,” and taunted Trump: “You can call me Tish.”
6. Trump’s hush money
The House Oversight Committee launched an investigation last winter into hush-money payments to women claiming they slept with Trump. Those payments were allegedly made “at the direction of” Trump, according to a legal filing prepared by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.
In February, Oversight chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings accused Trump’s lawyers of giving shifting explanations to Federal ethics officials about Trump’s reimbursement to Cohen for the payments.
Prosecutors formally announced the end of the criminal probe last week, but not before unsealing damning new information detailing Trump and his campaign’s frequent communications with Cohen as the scheme was unfolding.
On Friday, Cummings sent a letter to prosecutors in the Southern District of New York demanding to know whether their decision not to indict Trump rests on a controversial DOJ policy that a sitting president can’t be charged with a crime.
“If prosecutors identified evidence of criminal conduct by Donald Trump while serving as President — and did not bring charges as they would have for any other individual — this would be the second time the President has not been held accountable for his actions due to his position,” Cummings wrote.
7. Trump’s insurance broker
New York officials have also subpoenaed records from the Trump Organization’s longtime insurance broker, Aon.
The state’s Department of Financial Services is seeking to uncover details of the compensation arrangements between the Trump Organization and the broker, and whether fees were structured as flat payments or as commissions.
The subpoena followed Cohen’s public congressional appearance in February, during which he provided yet-to-be-corroborated testimony implicating his former boss in a litany of possible misdeed, including misstating the value of Trump’s assets to insurance companies.
Lying to an insurance broker could constitute the crime of insurance fraud. That could potentially pose a legal threat to Trump personally after he steps down from office, depending on whether he could be shown to have been directly involved and on whether the statute of limitations has expired by then.
8. Trump’s charitable foundation
Last year, the previous New York Attorney General, Barbara Underwood, accused Trump’s namesake charity, the Trump Foundation, of a “shocking pattern of illegality” while “functioning as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests.”
The foundation agreed to dissolve in December. But it’s still facing a lawsuit by the New York AG’s office that could force a payment of millions in restitution and penalties, and bar Trump and his three oldest adult children from serving on New York charitable boards.
The New York AG’s office could yet demand documents or depositions from Trump’s adult children about practices the attorney general’s office has already said violated the law.
9. Trump’s NY state tax returns
If House Democrats fail to pry Trump’s federal tax returns from the IRS, New York State has a backup plan.
Lawmakers have passed legislation that would allow the chairs of the tax-writing committees of Congress to request Trump’s state tax returns. That means if House Dems can't unearth his federal filings, they’ll be able to at least procure his state taxes.
Trump’s state tax returns could give an indication of the true size of his fortune or even point toward foreign financial entanglements, although they likely wouldn’t be as comprehensive as his federal returns, according to Sheil, the former IRS investigator. Still, they could make for some pretty interesting reading, Sheil said.
“It’s an escape valve for the pressure that’s building up between Congress and the White House,” said New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman, who helped introduce the bill. “If we can help Congress avoid some sort of constitutional showdown through his legislation, all the better.”
Cover: U.S. President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks to members of the news media, during a meeting with Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan (unseen) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 22 July 2019. The two leaders discussed regional security issues and economic support. Credit: Michael Reynolds / Pool via CNP