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Trump's misguided crusade against the cost of the Mueller investigation

Trump is trying to convince the public to oppose the Mueller investigation for financial reasons. The trouble is, the probe is largely paying for itself.
Image: Senate Judiciary Committee
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. ...

On Monday morning, Donald Trump threw a little Twitter tantrum over Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, asking why investigators haven't focused on the members of the president's team who didn't communicate with our Russian attackers. A day later, the president threw another anti-Mueller tantrum, baselessly accusing the special counsel of "doing tremendous damage to our criminal justice system."

Yesterday, Trump wrote, somewhat cryptically, "So much happening with the now discredited Witch Hunt." And this morning, for the fourth consecutive day, the president directed yet another  online tantrum at the ongoing probe.

"When will this illegal Joseph McCarthy style Witch Hunt, one that has shattered so many innocent lives, ever end-or will it just go on forever? After wasting more than $40,000,000 (is that possible?), it has proven only one thing-there was NO Collusion with Russia. So Ridiculous!"

Well, "ridiculous" is probably the right word, but not for the reason the president thinks.

Let's put aside some of the more obvious nonsense and instead focus on one element of Trump's argument: the cost of the Mueller investigation. Two days ago, the president described the probe as a "$30,000,000 Witch Hunt." This morning, he increased the price tag to "$40,000,000."

That's quite an increase over the course of two days.

Trump's inflation/mendacity nexus notwithstanding, there's a related problem the president doesn't seem to appreciate: much of the Mueller investigation is paying for itself.

In September, after Paul Manafort, the former chairman of the president's political operation, pleaded guilty to a variety of charges and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, a judge reminded him that there are "a significant number" of forfeitures in this case, including several homes and financial accounts.

As regular readers may recall, Rachel had a helpful rundown on the show:

"He's forfeiting all of those things -- bank accounts, insurance policies, lots and lots of real estate to the government. The government alleges that he defrauded the government of $15 million, money that he didn't pay taxes on. Part of making that up clearly is handing over his ill-gotten gains and the things he committed crimes in order to attain as real estate."But that last question there from the judge -- 'real property at Baxter Street in New York and also real property at Fifth Avenue in New York' -- that's the last one she asks, at that point, that's actually the first reference to President Trump, because the Fifth Avenue property that Paul Manafort agreed in court today to forfeit to the government, that is Paul Manafort's apartment at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue."You might remember that Paul Manafort used the fact that he had an apartment at Trump Tower as one of the selling points for himself in his letter to the Trump campaign in which he pitched himself for the campaign chairman job. Well, now the Justice Department owns Paul Manafort's old apartment in Trump Tower, which has to be a little unsettling for the president, I'd imagine."

And what, pray tell, is the combined fair-market value of Manafort's forfeited real-estate properties? According to a Washington Post  analysis, the combined total is about $22.2 million.

The analysis added, that sum alone "nearly covers our estimated costs of the investigation to date." Add Manafort's bank accounts and insurance policies to the mix, the value of what the feds have seized from the president's former campaign chairman goes up even more.

In other words, as of mid-September, Mueller's probe was effectively paying for itself.

It's something to keep in mind as Trump tries to convince the public to oppose the investigation for financial reasons.