FACT CHECK: Has Mueller Crossed Trump’s ‘Red Line’ In The Russia Investigation?

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

Several major news outlets claimed last week that the reported expansion of the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller crossed a “red line” for President Donald Trump.

Verdict: Unsubstantiated

News organizations reported that Trump had drawn a “red line” with Mueller over expanding the probe to include the finances of him or his family, besides those transactions relating to Russia. When news broke that Mueller had begun to examine Trump’s business transactions, media outlets mistakenly claimed Mueller had crossed that line.

There is no evidence the financial probe has expanded beyond Trump’s ties to Russia.

Fact Check:

Towards the end of an interview with The New York Times last Wednesday, reporters asked Trump about the Russia investigation.

“If Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia – is that a red line?” asked a Times reporter.

“Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?” a different Times reporter interjected.

“I would say yeah,” replied Trump. “I would say yes.”

Although it’s unclear from the transcript which question Trump answered, some news outlets have characterized the remark as the president drawing a “red line” for Mueller on the Russia investigation. The president did not draw it himself, but the White House has not disputed the “red line” either.

“The point the president is making is that the investigation should stay within the confines of meddling – Russia meddling in the election and nothing beyond that,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at a press briefing last Thursday.

Reporters began to ask whether Trump meant to intimidate Mueller and whether the president would fire him.

“And if it doesn’t, he fires him,” inquired a reporter.

“I’m not going to get into that,” replied Sanders.

The day after the Times interview, Bloomberg reported that the Russia probe had expanded to include Trump’s prior business transactions. An anonymous source disclosed to Bloomberg several Russia-related transactions under review, including the 2013 Miss America pageant held in Moscow and the development or sale of several properties by Trump and associates.

After the news broke, a number of major news outlets – including Bloomberg – ran headlines claiming the expanded probe crossed the “red line” drawn by Trump the day before.

“Can Mueller Do That? Inquiry Now Crosses Trump’s ‘Red Line,'” wrote Bloomberg. The Washington Post claimed, “Trump set a red line for Robert Mueller. And now Mueller has reportedly crossed it.”

However, all the specific transactions disclosed by the anonymous source were Russia-related, and Greg Farrell, one of the reporters who broke the story, called the expanded probe a “deep dive into the president’s history with Russia” in a subsequent interview.

Since the Times interviewer explicitly excluded Russia-related transactions from his “red line” question to Trump, we have no grounds to believe Mueller has crossed this line.

That didn’t stop major news outlets from running articles claiming otherwise. For example, WaPo incorrectly claimed that Russia-related transactions were “precisely” what would cross the president’s “red line.”

WaPo did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation for comment.

The breaking news article from Bloomberg did mention that some real estate dealings of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior aide, may be under review, but it does not specify whether those are Russia-related or not.

In addition, the Mueller inquiry is exploring “a broad range of transactions” according to Bloomberg, so it is possible that Mueller has expanded the investigation beyond Russia.

No examples of financial transactions unrelated to Russia were provided in the article, and Bloomberg declined to comment.

Without supporting evidence, claims of Mueller crossing Trump’s “red line” are unsubstantiated.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor
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