Special counsel Robert Mueller has not publicly uttered a single phrase concerning the course of his high-stakes Russia probe.
But the best way he’s badigned the 17 federal prosecutors on his crew — pieced collectively by POLITICO from court docket filings and interviews with attorneys acquainted with the Russia instances — offers perception into how he’s conducting the investigation and what is perhaps coming subsequent.
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His most skilled attorneys have discrete targets, comparable to former Donald Trump marketing campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former nationwide safety adviser Michael Flynn and present White House aides. Mueller’s longtime chief of workers is coordinating all of the attorneys, together with some who cowl a number of matters. Select FBI particular brokers have been tapped to query witnesses.
Spearheading the felony case in opposition to Manafort and his longtime deputy Rick Gates are three prosecutors schooled in cash laundering, fraud, overseas bribery and arranged crime: Andrew Weissmann, Greg Andres and Kyle Freeny.
And on the middle of the investigation into Flynn is Jeannie Rhee, a former Obama-era deputy badistant legal professional common who most just lately labored with Mueller on the WilmerHale regulation agency — and whose identify has thus far appeared solely on publicly accessible court docket paperwork referring to the responsible plea of former Trump marketing campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Assisting Rhee on the Flynn case is Zainab Ahmad, an badistant U.S. legal professional from New York with a specialty in prosecuting and accumulating proof in worldwide felony and terrorism instances — and whose identify hasn’t but appeared in Russia-related court docket filings in any respect.
Mueller’s org chart pulls again the curtain on how the particular counsel’s comparatively small crew is dealing with an array of investigative targets starting from marketing campaign contacts with Russian operatives to probably Trump himself.
“Division of labor is essential here,” mentioned Samuel Buell, a Duke University regulation professor and former badistant U.S. legal professional who labored with Weissmann within the prosecution of Enron executives within the early 2000s. “There’s got to be some carving up of this thing into nests of facts.”
Mueller’s investigation started with a give attention to Russia’s function within the 2016 election, however he’s free to pursue any crimes he finds. Former Justice officers mentioned the particular counsel’s crew must be versatile because it scrutinizes Trump aides’ contacts with Russians, Manafort’s abroad lobbying, Flynn’s firing attributable to his failure to reveal conversations with Russian officers, and the president’s resolution to oust FBI Director James Comey. They might solid a nonetheless wider web; Trump and his attorneys have warned Mueller to keep away from the president’s actual property offers.
One lawyer in Mueller’s workplace has indicated publicly that the completely different components of the particular counsel’s work are interconnected. During Papadopoulos’ plea settlement listening to in October, Mueller prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky urged the federal choose to limit Freedom of Information Act entry to the court docket information as a result of “there’s a large-scale ongoing investigation of which this case is a small part.”
While Mueller has badigned prosecutors to a few of his largest targets — a few of whom, like Flynn, haven’t but been publicly charged with against the law — they’re nonetheless pulled in lots of instructions. Rhee, the lead lawyer badigned to Manafort, was listed as the highest legal professional within the felony costs and plea deal unsealed final month within the Papadopoulos case. Brandon Van Grack, a DOJ nationwide safety prosecutor who dealt with the Flynn investigation earlier than Mueller’s appointment, represented the particular counsel on the Papadopoulos arraignment listening to in July in federal court docket in Alexandria, Virginia, the day after the Trump marketing campaign aide’s arrest at Dulles International Airport.
One former DOJ prosecutor acquainted with Mueller’s efforts mentioned the particular counsel’s attorneys don’t seem like organized in any sort of “rigidly hierarchical” method. “I don’t discount the fact there might be an org chart in a drawer somewhere,” the previous prosecutor mentioned. “But it’s far less relevant to these cases. … I’d fully expect everyone on this team is mature enough and skilled enough to take contributions as they come. It’s not a case of, ‘I’m in charge. You’re second in command.’”
Aaron Zebley, Mueller’s former FBI chief of workers, helps coordinate the a number of strains of inquiry. Zebley has labored as an FBI particular agent on counterterrorism instances, a high lawyer in Justice’s National Security Division and personal observe work at WilmerHale on disaster administration and cybersecurity points.
Mueller’s liaison to the White House is James Quarles, a former Watergate prosecutor who has helped organize an ongoing collection of interviews with present and former Trump aides. Quarles was concerned within the questioning of former press secretary Sean Spicer throughout a daylong interview final month, in accordance with an individual with information of the interview, and he’s a main level of contact for Trump’s private legal professional, John Dowd, in addition to Ty Cobb, the lead White House lawyer dealing with the Russia investigation.
For all of the difficult authorized questions Mueller faces — from deciphering federal felony statutes to the particular counsel’s personal boundaries for pursuing an obstruction of justice case in opposition to a sitting president — there’s Michael Dreeben, the deputy solicitor common and widely known felony regulation knowledgeable who has argued greater than 100 instances earlier than the Supreme Court.
“Dreeben is everywhere,” mentioned the previous federal prosecutor acquainted with Mueller’s efforts. “Anything involving law will involve Dreeben.”
Mueller’s work isn’t simply confined to his crew of prosecutors, which particular counsel spokesman Peter Carr mentioned grew final week to 17 with the addition of an unnamed lawyer.
The FBI, which had opened an investigation into Russian election meddling in July 2016, continues to play a distinguished behind-the-scenes function. FBI brokers helped execute the no-knock, pre-dawn raid on Manafort’s dwelling this summer time, they usually’ve taken the lead questioning a few of the key witnesses. A pair of particular brokers interviewed Papadopoulos about his Russia contacts in January after the president’s inauguration, a session that final month prompted the submitting of a responsible plea on a cost of mendacity to the FBI, in accordance with an affidavit filed by Robert Gibbs, an FBI agent and veteran counterespionage investigator.
More just lately, FBI particular brokers Walter Giardina and William Barnett performed an interview with Hank Cox, a contract editor from suburban Washington, D.C., who helped Flynn publish a pro-Turkey essay on Election Day 2016, Cox confirmed in an e mail.
Like a U.S. legal professional’s workplace, Mueller has the facility to achieve throughout Justice, the FBI and different federal departments to solicit challenge specialists on the whole lot from cybersecurity to counterintelligence. He’s getting badist from monetary document and tax specialists on the Treasury Department and IRS, as evidenced by the indictment charging Manafort and Gates with 12 felony counts, together with cash laundering and failing to reveal abroad financial institution accounts.
Carr mentioned earlier this 12 months that Mueller might improve his workers relying on “the needs of the investigation,” and he could have to bulk up in preparation for a Manafort-Gates felony trial. A federal choose has proposed a May 7 begin date. While that schedule has not been formalized but, it’ll ultimately require full-time preparation from the attorneys badigned to the case, possible Weissmann, Andres and Freeny. Any indictments involving Flynn would even be a further weight on the Mueller crew if it needed to deal with a second trial.
Mueller’s crew is already bigger than that of its most rapid predecessor: Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. legal professional tasked through the George W. Bush administration to be a particular counsel investigating who leaked the identification of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Only a half-dozen Justice attorneys, plus FBI brokers, labored on that case, which was far smaller in scope and led to just one felony trial, involving I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the previous chief of workers to Vice President Dick Cheney.
The Russia particular counsel’s workplace, nonetheless, is nowhere close to the scale of the multipronged Clinton-era investigation that started off as a probe of the president and first woman’s Whitewater actual property offers in Arkansas however then took a number of surprising turns, ending with congressional impeachment proceedings over the president’s badual affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
That Clinton investigation — most famously led by unbiased counsel Kenneth Starr — ballooned over the course of eight years to incorporate greater than 225 workers from DOJ and different federal companies, together with at the least 65 consultants and outdoors advisers, in accordance with a remaining report launched in 2002. Jay Apperson, a former deputy unbiased counsel below Starr, mentioned he might envision Mueller’s probe rising considerably in dimension “depending on the scope of the investigation.”
Mueller’s Manafort indictment “certainly suggests a broadened scope involving conduct well before his role in the Trump campaign,” he mentioned. But Apperson additionally cautioned that any sort of main growth possible will “rely on whether or not the targets of the investigation are cooperative and forthcoming, and that continues to be to be seen.”