As the curtain goes up on the Trump Era, here’s what I’m looking at as some of the major investigative stories of 2017:
Age of the Oligarchs? Is Mr. Trump a passing historical hiccup or does he signal something bigger? Around the globe, influential oligarchies appear to be entering an assertive new era. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is Exhibit #1. In Saudi Arabia, the longstanding oligarchy remains a forceful player in world oil markets and increasingly militant in its own neighborhood. In China, elements of the leadership are engaged in a pitched battle against oligarchic corruption while making bold military moves in the region. Iran, Turkey and North Korea are all on the oligarchic path. Meanwhile, international structures—NATO, the EU, global trade agreements, the Clinton Global Initiative (kidding)—are under threat. In the U.S., the Trump White House has arrived on the scene with oligarchic atmospherics: the swaggering leader with little patience for traditional politics, close relatives installed as key advisers, a cabinet of ultra-rich financiers and generals, etc. A terrific recent New York Times deep-dive, “Jared Kushner, a Trump In-Law and Adviser, Chases a Chinese Deal,” demonstrated the mutual interests of the Trump family and Chinese oligarchs. Comrade, all this is no accident, as the Marxists used to say. Or is it? Is Mr. Trump ushering in a new oligarchic era? Merely bringing some conservative creative destruction to Washington? Or mostly just huffing and puffing? We’ll know a lot more in a year.
The Russian Connection. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s alleged Russian connections have emerged as the first scandal of the new era. As I noted back in December, it may all turn out to be much ado about nothing, but the path forward is strewn with dangers. The coming months will bring Congressional and media investigations and new revelations. A key question: what did Mr. Trump and his advisers know about Russian activities during the U.S. election and when did they know it? Mr. Trump’s damage control team should have tattooed on their foreheads: “it ain’t the crime, it’s the cover-up.”
The Clinton Emails & The FBI. The Trump Administration will soon face important decisions concerning Hillary Clinton’s emails and the FBI. On December 27, a federal appeals court breathed new life into a Judicial Watch lawsuit seeking to compel Secretary of State John Kerry to comply with the law. A federal appeals panel ruled that Mr. Kerry had dodged a “statutory mandate to seek action by the Attorney General” in recovering thousands of never-disclosed emails. Decisions on compliance will now rest with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, should they be confirmed by the Senate. Mr. Sessions, in particular, is looking at some tough calls. The Justice Department’s inspector general is investigating FBI Director James Comey’s handling of the Clinton email case. There has been intense turmoil within the FBI over the 2016 election, the Clinton cases and the Russia-related allegations against the Trump campaign. Reliable sources tell me that many FBI agents believe there is a prosecutable corruption case against the Clintons and their foundation. But I’ve also found a pro-Trump tilt among FBI personnel. And as for the rumors that the bureau is investigating Mr. Trump’s Russia connections, I’ve found no one in the know who can confirm it, although it seems likely. In any case, Mr. Sessions, with jurisdiction over the FBI, will have to sort all this out. He’ll need to see that justice is done, that the storms shaking the FBI are calmed, and that a proper decision about Mr. Comey’s future is reached. Good luck with that.
Emoluments, Shmoluments? Put this one in the slow cooker for 2017. Mr. Trump seems to have calmed the political waters with his announcement that he will turn over “complete and total control” of his vast business holdings to his sons, appoint an ethics adviser and do no new foreign deals while in office. Judicial Watch called for a transparency revolution from the Trump Administration within twenty-four hours of his election and we have not let up the pressure. See our New York Times op-ed on the issue here. But while it seems unfair to insist that Mr. Trump totally divest in order to comply with the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution—a move that would essentially destroy the business he has spent a lifetime building—it’s true that keeping his nose out of the family business will severely test the president. There are certain to be unscrupulous characters seeking to curry favor. One timeless practice is to enrich not the king, but his children. Look for Constitutional challenges as well—likely heading toward the Supreme Court just in time for the 2018 midterm elections.
Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: email@example.com
Investigative Bulletin is published weekly by Judicial Watch. Reprints and media inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.