Follow the rubles

Donald Trump has complained special counsel Robert Mueller would be crossing a red line in his Russia investigation if he started scrutinizing Trump finances.

CNN reports: He’s going there.

Sources told CNN the investigation has widened to focus on possible financial crimes involving Russia — some unconnected to the election — in addition to possible illegal campaign collusion and potential obstruction of justice.

Despite Trump’s objections, Mueller’s mandate covers “any matters” that may arise from the core investigation.

The news came alongside a Wall Street Journal (pay site) report that Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington, signaling an intensified investigation. Reuters said subpoenas have been issued regarding Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer for dirt on Hillary Clinton.

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The Trump camp response to that was measured. “The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of [Mueller’s] work fairly,” said counsel Ty Cobb. See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.

Sancts for nothing

Still smarting over the Russia sanctions bill he was cornered into signing, Trump tweeted: “Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!”

Republican senators, among others, shot back that it’s time he started blaming Russia’s Vladimir Putin for meddling in last year’s U.S. elections and aggression in other countries.

As for the investigation, Trump said at a West Virginia rally Thursday night: “The Russia story is a total fabrication.”

Wall-eyed over Mexico vow

A leaked transcript of a Jan. 27 call to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto suggests Trump knew — despite his campaign promise to supporters — that Mexico would never pay for a border wall, but he wanted his counterpart to play along that it was open for discussion.

“You cannot say that to the press,” Trump said repeatedly of Peña Nieto’s defiant we-won’t-pay statements. He described the wall as “the least important thing we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important.”

“We should both say, ‘We will work it out,’ ” Trump said.

The Washington Post published that transcript, along with that of an acrimonious call the next day with Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (full texts here.)

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“This is the most unpleasant call all day,” Trump told Turnbull. “Putin was a pleasant call.”

The take-away: MAGA or CYA?

The transcripts of the Peña Nieto and Turnbull calls show a means and motive that remains unchanged from Trump’s business days: covering his rear end to protect his personal brand. Some quotes:

“This is going to kill me ...”

“Boy, that will make us look awfully bad ...”

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“This is a killer ...”

“I look like a dope ...”

See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.

Narco Hampshire

Trump also remarked to Peña Nieto, “I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den.”

That didn’t go over too well in the state where Trump won his first primary.

“It’s disappointing his mischaracterization of this epidemic ignores the great things this state has to offer,” said Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican.

Weaker dollar

While Trump on Twitter Friday continued trying to tie his administration to positive private-business news, Reuters reported: "The U.S. dollar was broadly lower on Friday as a combination of uninspiring U.S. economic data and political uncertainty kept traders biased toward the euro and other world currencies."

Rent is too damn high?

The Secret Service has vacated its command post one floor below the president’s Trump Tower apartment and relocated to a trailer on the sidewalk because of a dispute over terms of a lease, The Washington Post reported.

Money was among the sticking points. The Trump Organization said the agency should find space elsewhere, but Secret Service officials said they are still hoping to make a deal for space inside the tower on Fifth Avenue.

Spotty reception

The winners have been announced for the first Kennedy Center Honors of the Trump administration, and for some, there was no simple answer to the RSVP for a White House reception in December with the president and first lady, The New York Times reports.

TV producer and liberal activist Norman Lear won’t go. Cuban-born singer Gloria Estefan will be there, but said she will talk to Trump about “the wonderful contributions” immigrants have made to America.

There was no reticence from three others — LL Cool J, the first hip-hop artist honoree; musician and record producer Lionel Richie; and Carmen de Lavallade, a dancer and choreographer.

Explained Richie: “When you say, do you want to sit next to the president or not — are you kidding me? He’s the president!”

What else is happening

  • Trump on Friday starts a 17-day summer vacation at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club. Before he became president, Trump professed disdain for vacations and tweeted sarcastically about a Barack Obama getaway: “Nice work ethic.”
  • Seriously? Seriously. White House aide Sebastian Gorka, asked by Fox News what card Trump has left to get more help China to stop North Korea’s nuclear arms program, replied: “We have the president’s Twitter feed.”
  • National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, overcoming months of resistance from others in the White House, has prevailed in booting from his staff hard-right, Steve Bannon-allied holdovers from Mike Flynn’s brief reign.
  • Long Island's billionaire Mercer family -- heavily invested in the Cambridge Analytica data mining firm that aided Trump last year -- surfaces again in news reports as probe-target Flynn discloses his consulting role with a related entity.
  • McMaster also has concluded that Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice did nothing wrong in “unmasking” the identities of Trump associates who turned up in foreign surveillance, Bloomberg News reports. That undercuts a narrative the White House pushed to counter Russia probe revelations.
  • Federal prosecutors based in Brooklyn have subpoenaed the family real estate business of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner as part of an investigation into the use of immigration visas to entice Chinese investors, The Wall Street Journal reported.
  • A Quinnipiac University poll found that 55% of voters in military households and 68% of Americans overall believe transgender people should be allowed to serve in the military. Trump announced last week he wanted them banned.