House 'will open up money-laundering inquiry' into Trump-Russia ties, says key Democrat

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif. (Yahoo News photo Illustration; photo: AP)
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif. (Yahoo News photo Illustration; photo: AP)

WASHINGTON — A key Democrat on the House intelligence committee said the panel plans to start the new session of Congress by aggressively investigating President Trump’s finances, contending that there is already “probable cause” to believe his business was complicit in money laundering from Russia dating back to the early 2000s.

“We will open up a money-laundering inquiry as to whether the Russians were laundering money through the Trump organization,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., a member of both the House intelligence and judiciary committees, on the Yahoo News podcast Skullduggery. “To use a prosecutor’s phrase, I think we have probable cause to do that, based on the Trump family’s own admissions that they had money coming in from Russia.”

Since 2013, Swalwell has represented California’s 15th congressional district in eastern Alameda County and central Contra Costa counties, to the south and east of Oakland, and he says he is seriously considering a run for president in 2020. His comments are the most specific yet to suggest how Democrats on the intelligence committee plan to pick up a Russia investigation that was cut short by the panel’s previous Republican leaders last year.

While Swalwell, 38, acknowledged that he has not consulted the panel’s new chairman, his fellow California Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff, about the issue, he spoke with confidence about the direction he expects the probe to go. It will start out with letters asking the Trump Organization and Deutsche Bank, a major lender to Trump, to voluntarily turn over records — and then move to subpoenas, if there is not full compliance.

As a result, Swalwell acknowledged that the probe could be a prolonged one marked by White House resistance and even litigation over the basis for the subpoenas. “As far as how many years back does it go, we know that you have evidence in the early 2000s of … Trump properties being purchased by Russians, so the Trump interest in Russia and the Russia interest in Trump does go back decades. From my perspective, I would want to know where did the financial compromise begin.”

(Asked to comment on Swalwell’s remarks, a spokesman for Schiff, the new intelligence chairman, pointed to remarks he recently made to the New Yorker magazine. “The American people have a right to know that their President is working on their behalf, not his family’s financial interests,” Schiff was quoted as saying. “Right now, I don’t think any of us can have the confidence that that’s the case.”)

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“You’re talking about years of records, years of relationships that the Trump family has had,” Swalwell said, adding, “I think we want to have a comprehensive picture of whether or not the president is financially compromised by the Russians.”

Swalwell distanced himself and the aim of the Intelligence Committee from the views of freshman Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who, when speaking Wednesday about Trump to a group of activists, vowed to “impeach the motherf*****.”

“Not how I would say it. Not how I’d do it, but it’s certainly a sentiment that I hear from a lot of my constituents,” Swalwell said when asked for comment on Tlaib’s remarks. “And what I want to do on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committee with chairman Schiff and Nadler is to give Donald Trump a fairer investigation than he probably deserves, because at the end of the day, I think the strength of our democracy will be whether we preserve the rule of law.”

At the same time, Swalwell said he doesn’t expect that the probe into Trump’s finances will be limited to the president’s past Russia dealings. The panel may also investigate the Trump Organization’s ties to Saudi Arabia, Swalwell added, noting the “hundreds” of hotel rooms Saudi lobbyists booked at the new Trump Hotel in Washington after the president’s election.

Highly critical of what he called Trump’s failure to assert “American values” in holding Saudi Arabia responsible for the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Swalwell noted the president’s business ties to the kingdom and the reception he received on his first foreign trip after taking office.

“You have a narcissistic personality, and they’re throwing him this massive welcome ceremony, and I think we all can see, you know, why he would kind of gravitate toward them,” Swalwell said.

As to whether the committee would investigate Trump’s relationship with the Saudis, Swalwell said: “What I would like to know is, again — and you could see this through his tax returns, you could see this through bank records — whether there is an ongoing relationship financially with the Saudis.”

Swalwell also indicated that there is much unfinished business from the panel’s previous Russian investigation, starting with the “blocked” phone number Donald Trump Jr. called immediately after setting up the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between top campaign officials and Russian operatives purportedly offering Kremlin files with damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Although he cautioned that cellphone and text messages may already have been purged, Swalwell said the committee will seek to retrieve them — by subpoena if necessary — to determine if Trump, who has denied any knowledge of the meeting, was in fact informed about it by his son.

Swalwell likened the pace of the special counsel’s investigation of Trump’s presidential campaign team to the arduous task of untangling of a long string of Christmas lights. “I think that’s kind of what the Mueller team is doing — untangling this big ball of Christmas lights and trying to figure out where it ends.”

As Mueller and the House intelligence committee continue that task in 2019, Swalwell may also use his investigative role as a way to stand out in a crowded Democratic presidential field. Asked if he was still considering announcing his own candidacy to succeed Trump in the White House, the congressman didn’t hesitate. “Yes I am,” he said, adding that he plans to keep visiting early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina in the coming weeks.

“I think I can make a difference, but I also think I can win. Most importantly, I want to see our country come together,” Swalwell said.


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