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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Mueller is following the money in Russia investigation

Former FBI director and special counsel Robert Mueller

Former FBI director and special counsel Robert Mueller leaves the Capitol in Washington, June 21, 2017. Credit: AP

Money remains the strongest of threads running through the probes of the Trump administration and of the campaign that preceded it.

The latest guilty plea to result from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation grows out of what is largely a money-laundering case against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his ex-associate Richard Gates.

Manafort was an obvious target for Mueller’s team to pursue given its mission regarding Russia’s role.

The lawyer-lobbyist got big bucks from pro-Russian Ukrainians, was a player in the Republican Party and headed operations for Trump at the 2016 GOP convention.

Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, the son-in-law of a Russian oligarch, pleaded guilty this week in connection with charges that he lied to authorities about a conversation he had with Gates.

Also this week, CNN reported that Mueller has begun exploring efforts by Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner to obtain financing for his family real-estate company from foreign investors during the transition.

The terrain Mueller treads is rich, given who the Kushners and Trumps were long before arriving at the White House.

The current issue of Forbes magazine reports that the biggest conflict of interest for Trump himself may be “hidden in plain sight,” at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.

The building’s 20th floor houses the largest U.S. office of China’s largest bank, a majority of which is owned by the government in Beijing, which pays an estimated $2 million a year for the space to the Trump Organization. Commercial leases in general are a key money-maker for the company.

The Trump lease with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China comes up for renegotiation next year.

Last month, another Trump money issue drew public notice when five banks — including Deutsche Bank, a major Trump lender — got valuable temporary exemptions from the administration.

Without the reprieves, the banks would have to shut down certain lucrative operations because of past criminal convictions. The Obama administration had granted the waivers temporarily, too, under a deferred prosecution agreement involving interest-rate manipulations.

The U.S. Labor Department said the Deutsche Bank deal was less lenient than the prior administration’s. “Any insinuation of special treatment is counter to these facts,” department spokesman Jeffrey Grappone said last month.

Trump’s real-estate leases and lending deals are not known so far to be direct targets of Mueller’s scrutiny.

The more significant recent filing by the special counsel was his indictment of 13 Russians connected to a multimillion-dollar internet operation that allegedly used fake social-media accounts to help Trump and attack Hillary Clinton.

Part of that picture involves campaign funds — with the idea that the social-media messages violated a ban on foreign spending and rules that require all such expenditures to be disclosed.

To follow Mueller’s actions is to follow the cash as a way of shedding light on internet high jinks and alleged voter manipulation.

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