Then FBI Director Robert Mueller arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2012, to testify during a hearing.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Special counsel in Trump-Russia investigation partners with IRS

We learned this week that Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team investigating the Trump-Russia scandal have begun working with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D), whose office is also scrutinizing relevant players in the controversy. It’s an important revelation: if charges are eventually filed against anyone involved in the affair, Donald Trump wouldn’t be able to issue pardons to anyone accused of state crimes.

But according to The Daily Beast, this isn’t the only office Mueller and his team are working with.

Special counsel Bob Mueller has teamed up with the IRS. According to sources familiar with his investigation into alleged Russian election interference, his probe has enlisted the help of agents from the IRS’ Criminal Investigations unit.

This unit – known as CI – is one of the federal government’s most tight-knit, specialized, and secretive investigative entities. Its 2,500 agents focus exclusively on financial crime, including tax evasion and money laundering. A former colleague of Mueller’s said he always liked working with IRS’ special agents, especially when he was a U.S. Attorney.

And it goes without saying that the IRS has access to Trump’s tax returns – documents that the president has long resisted releasing to the public.

NBC News has not verified The Daily Beast’s reporting, though as Joy noted on last night’s show, the trajectory of the probe makes sense.

The president, you’ll recall, recently said he expects – and to a certain extent, demands – that Mueller’s investigation will steer clear of his finances. That’s never been an especially realistic expectation: if the probe leads to questions about whether the president has been compromised by a foreign adversary, it stands to reason the investigation will include a financial component.

All of which gives Trump and his allies another reason to worry about the seriousness of this scandal.

Paul Butler, an MSNBC legal analyst and a former federal prosecutor, added on the show last night, “These are the big dogs of white collar prosecutions. They not only know how to follow the money, they know how to make a case and explain it to a jury in a way that makes it want to convict. So, I always say we’re a long way from charges being brought, but if there’s a criminal case, if you’re a defendant, the last people you want going against you is C.I., the criminal investigations unit of the tax division.”

* Postscript: The Daily Beast’s reporting added that if Mueller wanted to bring charges related to tax law at some point in the future, he’d need approval from the Justice Department’s elite Tax Division. That could be a little tricky: “Trump hasn’t yet named his pick to run the division, which is a post that requires Senate confirmation.”