The White House insists that President Donald Trump never received information about the intelligence reports, raising the question of why, if true, that might be the case. However, on Tuesday night, the New York Times reported that President Trump had received information about Russian rewards in February, three months before he unilaterally offered to invite Russia to G7 meetings.
At the very least, he conforms to a long pattern of Trump and his team avoiding confrontation with Vladimir Putin, despite constant provocations.
It also provides the most recent and most urgent example of why it is so much based on the Supreme Court's decision on whether Trump's taxes and business records can be released to members of the House of Representatives and the New York District Attorney York. The ruling is expected this week.
This is perhaps the most watched Supreme Court decision of this session, with massive implications for the separation of powers and the ability of American voters to make a fully informed decision in the November presidential election.
Trump, of course, broke decades of precedent by refusing to issue his tax returns, often making up false excuses for why he can't do it (including, which is subject to what would be the longest recorded tax audit history). The truth is, he's done everything possible to avoid showing his finances to the American people, and Attorney General Bill Barr's Department of Justice is now acting as the President's personal attorney.
As CNN legal analyst Elie Honig notes, "In total, six different federal courts, three district courts, and three appeals panel courts have heard these cases, and all six have ruled against Trump." Furthermore, court cases stemming from corruption in the Warren G. Harding administration, known as the Teapot Dome scandal, appear to apply directly. A subsequent 1924 law states that the Secretary of the Treasury "will provide" the tax information requested by the relevant Congressional committee, which Trump's Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin declined to do, without citing any "legitimate legislative purpose" .
But there is a clear public and legislative interest in finding out whether Trump has concealed business with the Russians, which could explain his strange but persistent reluctance to confront Vladimir Putin on clear issues of American national interest.
Before Trump's political career, his son Eric repeatedly bragged about being able to avoid American banks, many of which refused to do business with the Trump organization, because the company could get all the money it needed from Russia. In 2008, his son Don Jr. said at a real estate conference that "Russians make up a rather disproportionate cross section of many of our assets … we see a lot of money flowing from Russia." And Reuters reported that 63 Russians invested nearly $ 100 million in Trump buildings.
Russia has a notorious reputation for money laundering, and two frequent destinations are luxury real estate and casinos, which the Trump organization has operated in the past.
This is far from being an academic concern. CNN has counted no less than 25 times that President Trump has been strangely soft on Russia, from denying that Moscow interfered in the US election on his behalf, to suggesting that he could keep the conquered Ukrainian province of Crimea, undermine era-sanctions. Obama, withdraw US troops from Syria, to praise pro-Russian leaders in Europe, to protest against NATO.
Additionally, we have seen a pattern of administration officials told not to mention Russia and allegations of electoral interference to the President. Former head of the Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Neilsen was told not to raise current concern about the meddling of the 2020 election by the Russians to the president because he would react badly. Former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told another senior administration official that "it was not a big issue and should stay below its level."
True to form, when news of Russian rewards emerged, the White House ignored the substance and declined to speak of retaliation against Russia. Instead, as CNN's Marshall Cohen noted in a Fact Check analysis of White House press secretary comments: "Throughout his press conference, (Kayleigh) McEnany spent more time criticizing American journalists than condemning Russia for its aggressive movements against American interests, which include rewards in Afghanistan, electoral interference in 2016, and military actions in Syria and Ukraine. "
"This smacks of WH trying to mislead the public," added CNN national security analyst Susan Hennessey of the administration's rejection. "It is common for different intelligence agencies to give different degrees of trust depending on how the underlying information is based; that is not the same as disagreement about whether something happened."
Court watchers warn that there is no guarantee that President Trump's business records or taxes will be seen by the public any time soon, even if he loses both cases in the court decision. New York District Attorney Cy Vance, for example, has issued citations for Trump's taxes in the context of a Grand Jury investigation and that information would be kept closely by the court. But accountability will lead to more transparency than we've had in the past on an urgent matter that continues to confuse even some of Trump's allies: why is Trump still praising Putin despite constant provocations?
The American people deserve to know the truth about Trump and Russia. And to find the truth we need to follow the money. The Supreme Court may soon decide whether the truth, or partisan politics, will triumph before the American people go to the polls in November.