President Donald Trump falsely claimed that Robert Mueller, the former special counsel who investigated Russian interference on Trump’s behalf in the 2016 election, had examined his personal finances.
“They went through everything I had, including my tax returns, and they found absolutely no collusion and nothing wrong,” Trump said during the third presidential debate with former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, on Thursday.
But Mueller’s team did not, in fact, examine Trump’s financials. In Mueller’s final report, there were zero mention of Trump’s tax returns, and members of the Mueller team have indicated that they made the decision not to pursue the issue because it was a sensitive topic for the president.
Andrew Weissman, a former top official who worked on the report, wrote in his recent book that the Mueller team was “put on notice” by the White House that launching a broad financial investigation could lead to their firing.
“Trump had characterized such a move as crossing a ‘red line’ ― a threat that, ironically, suggested he might have something to hide,” Weissmann wrote. (Trump had said so in a July 2017 interview with The New York Times.)
“The White House’s request, and Trump’s red line statement, impressed upon us that pivoting to such a broad financial investigation would set off ― at a minimum ― a presidential hissy fit,” Weissman wrote.
More broadly, the Mueller report did not — in any way, shape or form — find that Trump did “nothing wrong.” In fact, it laid out a wide range of potential wrongdoing. What saved Trump was the fact that he occupied the Oval Office: The Justice Department has a longstanding legal view that the president cannot be indicted. Mueller said that his team determined it “would not reach a determination ― one way or the other ― about whether the President committed a crime” because doing so would be out of step with DOJ guidelines, which suggest that prosecutors should only accuse individuals of crimes when they are doing so formally through the legal process.
According to Weissman, Mueller’s team informed the White House that it would not be seeking Trump’s financial information.
“At that point, any financial investigation of Trump was put on hold. That is, we backed down ― the issue was simply too incendiary; the risk, too severe.”
Trump, year after year, has claimed that he can’t release his tax returns because he’s under audit.
During his appearance before Congress, Mueller declined to discuss his decision-making on the issue.