Robert Mueller’s former prosecutors are trying to move on. Congressional Democrats want to pull them back in.
It’s the latest twist for the special counsel’s attorneys who spent nearly two years working on one of the most scrutinized investigations in American history and now are resurfacing at major law firms touting their work on the Russia probe. Some are even giving interviews to journalists, a big change from the “no comment” mantra they practiced to almost comical extremes, while another has a reported book deal.
Democrats struggling to find witnesses to guide their probes of Donald Trump say they’ve noticed the recent uptick in activity — and they want in.
These are, after all, the same attorneys who personally interviewed the president’s aides and a wide cast of characters connected to Moscow’s election interference campaign. They worked closest with the special counsel in deciding who merited prosecution or even a mention in his final report. As a result, they could offer new investigative leads, suggest ways to stymie the foreign assistance Trump seems open to accepting and further the congressional probes fueling impeachment calls. In short, they could do what Mueller himself has yet to do, although the special counsel did agree late Tuesday to testify on July 17.
“We should hear from Bob Mueller as well as the senior members of his team to bring to life the findings in their report,” said New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a member of the House Democratic leadership who also has a slot on the powerful Judiciary Committee, which has the ability to launch impeachment proceedings.
Under the joint House Judiciary and Intelligence Committee plan unveiled Tuesday night, an unspecified number of the special counsel’s senior deputies are expected to accompany their former boss and testify in closed session when Mueller appears next month. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff declined Tuesday night to identify the deputies, and it was also unclear if they would be appearing under subpoena.
Democrats also haven’t precluded bringing the former Mueller lawyers back for additional rounds.
“I think that’s likely to happen after Mueller testifies,” said Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, another Judiciary Committee Democrat. “There are additional witnesses. But he’s the principal in terms of the contents of the report.”
Still, Cicilline and other Judiciary Committee Democrats said they can’t help but notice the public commentary and newspaper interviews that members of Mueller’s team have recently granted as they transition into their new private sector jobs. Most eyebrow-raising of all — news that Andrew Weissmann, one of Mueller’s top deputies, is writing a book that appears like it will cover his time on the special counsel’s team.
“I hope he’s not trying to hold off on going public with any secrets so that he can have a good book rollout,” said Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson, another Judiciary Committee Democrat. “You really owe it to the American people to let us know if you’ve got something to say outside of the four corners of the report. You need to reveal it to us. And it needs to be in an open session.”
The former members of Mueller’s team all could offer Democrats tantalizing details from their own investigation, not to mention possible legislative fixes, hearing ideas about election security and advice on how a special counsel’s office should function. Access to them may also be easier since they are no longer on the Justice Department payroll.
The list of top targets includes Andrew Goldstein, a former prosecutor who this week announced his new position working from Washington, D.C., and New York at the Cooley law firm. His revamped online bio says his title was “senior assistant special counsel” under Mueller and credits him with conducting every major interview of Trump’s advisers for his team’s examination of whether the president obstructed justice. Goldstein also played a key part in securing guilty pleas from former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen and 2016 Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, and helped prepare the Roger Stone indictment.
Goldstein is not the only Mueller team member promoting a workload that lawmakers want to know more about. Jeannie Rhee last Friday announced her arrival as a partner at the law firm Paul, Weiss, where she will be working on white-collar investigations and data breach cases — some of the same topics she handled in the Russia investigation. Her bio touts that Mueller asked her to join his effort from the start in May 2017, and notes that she led the team that indicted more than two dozen Russian military intelligence officers, individuals and companies for their role in a sweeping hacking and digital manipulation campaign intended to boost Trump over Hillary Clinton. Rhee also played a key role in bringing charges against Stone and in securing guilty pleas from Cohen, Papadopoulos and Paul Manafort.
Greg Andres, another former Mueller lawyer, returned to his old job at a New York law firm. His online resume plays up his position as lead trial attorney in the “successful prosecution” of Manafort.
And then there’s Weissmann, who returned to New York University law school earlier this year after working on some of the most publicized aspects of the special counsel probe, including the prosecution of Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates.
Another Mueller team member exiting government is Michael Dreeben, who played a key role defending Mueller’s initial appointment against legal challenges. Dreeben revealed last week that he would leave his post as deputy solicitor general, capping a three-decade government career that saw him represent the United States more than 100 times before the Supreme Court. It’s widely believed that Dreeben was a key voice on Mueller’s squad in deciding whether the special counsel should follow a Watergate-era DOJ policy that prohibited the indictment of a sitting president.
This group may be largely anonymous to the broader public, but their role in the controversial probe has brought them more attention than most government attorneys could ever imagine. Trump repeatedly tarred the lawyers as a band of “angry Democrats” leading a “coup” to end his presidency, giving them a prominence that has carried over into their post-Mueller lives.
The Russia probe staffers “continue to be harassed on a daily basis,” said Brandon Van Grack, a DOJ attorney who worked on the probe and continues to handle the active cases in court, during a court appearance on Monday.
“It’s not a hypothetical,” Van Grack told the federal judge overseeing a hearing in ex-Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn’s case.
To date, these Mueller deputies have not been called to Capitol Hill. But after their former boss testifies, that could change. The special counsel himself said during his one and only public appearance last month that his 448-page report was “my testimony.” The recalcitrance led to a stand-off that ended Tuesday night only after a subpoena threat from Democrats on both the Judiciary and Intelligence committees.
So far, the Mueller alumni have dodged questions about testifying.
“It’s premature to even consider that,” Goldstein told The Washington Post. Van Grack declined comment.
Their reluctance may only be a matter of time. “I suspect they will all hold the line until somebody breaks,” said Matt Miller, a former Obama-era Justice Department spokesman.
The ex-Mueller prosecutors who have spoken publicly since leaving their jobs have tried to avoid making headlines, giving media interviews only to select outlets and avoiding comment that provides any substantive detail looking back on their Russia probe efforts.
Andres, for example, repeatedly declined to discuss his work with Mueller when he gave a sit-down interview to The New York Times about his new job at Davis Polk & Wardwell. Rhee simply told Bloomberg, “I certainly will carry with me all that I have learned and I’ve experienced over the past few years.”
Speaking to the Post about his new job, Goldstein called his Mueller work “the privilege of a lifetime,” but otherwise stuck to the special counsel’s script. “I do not believe I should say anything beyond what the report said,” he added.
Several former Mueller team members are still in government. Van Grack now leads a DOJ team investigating the same kinds of foreign lobbying cases he pursued against Manafort. Adam Jed, another former Mueller lawyer, has taken an assignment with the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, D.C. At Monday’s Flynn hearing, Jed sat in the front row in federal court while Van Grack handled the talking. Jed and Aaron Zelinsky, who returned to his previous post with federal prosecutors in Baltimore, are also still listed on the court docket for Stone’s case, which is scheduled for trial in early November.
Another former Mueller aide, Zainab Ahmad, has been expected back with the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York, though a spokesman there said she’s not yet returned to her post. And Peter Carr, who served as Mueller’s “no comment” spokesman throughout the probe, is back at his previous job working in media affairs for the DOJ criminal division.
From a pure legal standpoint, neither the Justice Department nor the White House should expect to be able to stop lawmakers from speaking with the senior former members of Mueller’s staff, said Will Moschella, who ran DOJ’s congressional affairs office during the George W. Bush administration. That goes for the ex-Mueller aides whether they are in or out of the government.
“But the further down the chain you get, the less likely it is they’ll testify,” he said.
While not all of the former Mueller members are expected to get congressional invitations, they are among the few witnesses, other than Mueller, who could offer “new and important things to say in a public setting,” said Ted Kalo, a former Democratic general counsel to the House Judiciary Committee.
“I think it’s good to get [Mueller] to say as much as he has to say, in his own voice, rather than subordinates,” he added. “If they’re willing to say more, it’s an excellent idea to have them follow up.”