Mueller Has Enough Prosecutors to Continue Walking and Chewing Gum While We’ve Been Watching Manafort

NBC has a clickbait story reporting that Robert Mueller has enough evidence to indict Michael Flynn that — by describing that Mueller is still interviewing witnesses about Flynn’s lobbying — undermines its headline.

Mueller is applying renewed pressure on Flynn following his indictment of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, three sources familiar with the investigation told NBC News.

The investigators are speaking to multiple witnesses in coming days to gain more information surrounding Flynn’s lobbying work, including whether he laundered money or lied to federal agents about his overseas contacts, according to three sources familiar with the investigation.

Remember: on high profile investigations like this, interested parties sometimes try to force a prosecutor’s hand by leaking stuff like this (we should also expect people to leak to the press to create pressure for pardons), and in this case the leaking is exacerbated because of the multiple congressional investigations.

Moreover, there’s good reason to doubt the notion that Mueller is moving from target to target sequentially, which some have interpreted the description of Mueller “renewing” pressure on Flynn to suggest. Remember: Mueller has 15 prosecutors, every one of whom is capable of leading this kind of investigation themselves. And there’s at least a hint that Mueller has separate teams working on separate parts of the investigation.

Consider this detail from the motion to unseal the Manafort docket. The motion specifically asked for the whole thing to be unsealed except for this redaction at the top of the indictment itself.

[T]he government respectfully moves for an order unsealing the docket, with the exception of the original indictment, which contains, at the top, administrative information relating to the Special Counsel’s Office.

There are a lot of things that the redaction might hide. One of those is some kind of marking that indicates the organization of the investigation, one which would disclose investigative strategy if it were disclosed now, but would be really useful for historians if it were unsealed after whatever happens happens.

Couple that with the fact that there is no overlap between the prosecutors appearing thus far in the Manafort docket, who are:

  • Andrew Weismann
  • Greg Andres
  • Kyle Freeny

Adam Jed, an appellate specialist, has appeared with these lawyers in grand jury appearances.

And the prosecutors appearing in the Papadopoulos docket, who are:

  • Jeannie Rhee
  • Andrew Goldstein
  • Aaron Zelinsky

It would make sense that the teams would be focused on different parts of the investigation. After all, Mueller has drawn on a fair range of expertise, which I laid out here (see this article for Carrie Johnson’s description of where these folks are on loan from); if I were to do this over, I’d add a special category for money laundering:

  1. Mob specialists: Andrew Weissman and [Lisa Page *] are mob prosecutors.
  2. Fraud specialists: Weissman and Rush Atkinson are also fraud prosecutors.
  3. Corporate crime specialists: Weissman also led the Enron Task force. One of Dreeben’s key SCOTUS wins pertained to corporate crime. Jeannie Rhee has also worked on white collar defense. [Kyle Freeny, who was the last attorney to join the team, is a money laundering expert.]
  4. Public corruption specialists: Mueller hired someone with Watergate experience, James Quarles. And Andrew Goldstein got good press in SDNY for prosecuting corrupt politicians (even if Sheldon Silver’s prosecution has since been overturned).
  5. International experts: Zainab Ahmad, who worked terrorism cases in EDNY, which has some of the most expansive precedents for charging foreigners flown into JFK (including Russia’s darling Viktor Bout), knows how to bring foreigners to the US and successfully prosecute them in this country. Aaron Zelinsky has also worked in international law. Elizabeth Prelogar did a Fulbright in Russia and reportedly speaks it fluently. And, as noted, [Greg] Andres has worked on foreign bribery
  6. Cyber and spying lawyers: Brandon Van Grack is the guy who had been leading the investigation into Mike Flynn; he’s got a range of National Security experience. Aaron Zebley, Mueller’s former chief of staff at FBI, also has that kind of NSD experience.
  7. Appellate specialists: With Michael Dreeben, Mueller already has someone on the team who can win any appellate challenges; Adam Jed and Elizabeth Prelogar are also appellate specialists. Mueller’s hires also include former clerks for a number of SCOTUS justices, which always helps out if things get that far.

In other words, the team that has thus far been involved in the Manafort prosecution have experience prosecuting corporate crime and money laundering, as well as flipping people. The team that has thus far handled Papadopoulos includes Goldstein, a top public corruption prosecutor (who curiously would have had visibility into Manafort related prosecutions in SDNY), Zelinsky, who has both mob and international law expertise, and Jeannie Rhee whose relevant experience includes time in Congress, prosecuting national security related conspiracies, and cybersecurity investigations. The experience of the latter team, in particular, suggests where they might be headed, probably including people in or recently in government, but Rhee’s ties to leaks and cybersecurity might suggest the emails are a bigger part of that investigation than most people have noticed.

Notably absent from these two teams is Brandon Van Grack, who started the prosecution of Mike Flynn and presumably has remained focused on that. So there’s no reason to believe Van Grack would have to renew pressure, aside from pointing to the example of Manafort to prove the seriousness of this investigation, because he probably has just kept up the pressure as we’ve been distracted.

Also of note: we’re still not seeing all the mob and international expertise on Mueller’s team.

All of which is to say we’ve only seen the involvement of at most 7 out of the 15 lawyers on Mueller’s team. I’m sure the remaining 8 haven’t been sitting idle while we’ve all been focusing on Manafort and Papadopoulos.

Update: Because it’s related, I’ll remind that in Papadopoulos’ plea deal, Zelinsky said they wanted to sustain the prohibition on FOIA because,

in the process of his ongoing efforts to cooperate, the Government has shared substantial information with the Defendant that has provided a road map of sorts, to information that might be sought on FOIA. And it will chill the Government’s ability to continue to have the Defendant cooperate if the information that’s being provided by the Defendant and the continued efforts to jog his memory are then used to create a road map to the ongoing investigation.

Update: When this post was first posted I accidentally swapped Weissman for Goldstein in one reference. My apologies.

*Update: As Peredonov notes below, Page left the SCO after I wrote the underlying post. I’ve marked it in the quote and adjusted numbers accordingly.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

31 replies
  1. Domye says:

    Good analysis! I have a question about the NBC story though; could this be a tactic by the SC team to put more pressure on Flynn? Say Flynn is 1/2Ass cooperating, but the SC team thinks he is holding back- could they use the press to say “we have enough to prosecute Flynn and Jr”, in hopes that it exerts MORE pressure on Flynn Sr to get him to reveal more?

    • Peterr says:

      I doubt it. The SC team has had enough to prosecute Flynns Sr & Jr from very early on, and the broader media conversation has been chewing on it for quite a while. My take is that this is practically an evergreen piece, tweaked and put out now to keep people looking at NBC for the next breathless announcement about indictments and deals.

      Mind you, there *are* things that will put more pressure on Sr to get him to reveal more, but this story isn’t one of them.

    • emptywheel says:

      True. But money launder by whom? Russian mobsters, their influence peddlers, or shit GOP operatives trying to find emails? A difference of method.

    • emptywheel says:

      Some presumably are working on overall strategy and legal theory, and I suspect he’s working on the former.

      But that still leaves at least one more and probably two more teams.

  2. posaune says:

    Marcy,   thank you! you are gold!   tip for the server jar coming.

     

    p.s.   do you get any sleep?

  3. SpaceLifeForm says:

    Paradise Papers

    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-41880153

    – One of President Donald Trump’s top administration officials kept a financial stake in a firm whose major partners include a Russian company part-owned by President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law

    – An oligarch with close links to the Kremlin may have secretly taken ownership of a company responsible for anti-money laundering checks on Russian cash

    There are more than 1,400GB of data, containing about 13.4 million documents. Some 6.8 million come from the offshore legal service provider Appleby and corporate services provider Estera. The two operated together under the Appleby name until Estera became independent in 2016. Another six million documents come from corporate registries in some 19 jurisdictions, mostly in the Caribbean. A smaller amount comes from the Singapore-based international trust and corporate services provider, Asiaciti Trust. The leaked data covers seven decades, from 1950 to 2016.

    [Possible links to arrest of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal could be interesting. And links to his past contacts in US]

      • pseudonymous in nc says:

        Seconded. This is more like a dangle from Team Flynn (which appears to have somewhat cannier counsel) to see whether there are pardons in the offing both for Moscow Misha and Large Adult Pizza Son. Or perhaps to bluff/signal to the SCO that there might be pardons in the offing.

        If it’s a signal to the White House, then timing it for when the dotard is being fed burger’n’ketchup on the golf course in Japan is slightly weird, but there you go.

  4. Bay State Librul says:

    So CNN broke the Manafort indictment. Now NBC gets the Flynn news with three sources. We know it is not Mueller so who owns the dime?

  5. person1597 says:

    Quarles’ in the newz…

    Vice Chairman for Supervision of the Federal Reserve — Randal Keith Quarles mentioned in paradise papers…

    “Until recently, Quarles held an indirect interest in the bank, which is under investigation by U.S. authorities for possible tax evasion by its American account holders.”

    https://www.icij.org/investigations/paradise-papers/paradise-papers-exposes-donald-trump-russia-links-and-piggy-banks-of-the-wealthiest-1-percent/

    Show me the money!

  6. Roman Clay says:

    President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort received millions of dollars in loans from businesses tied to Trump soon after he resigned from the campaign last August.
    In September, Summerbreeze received a $3.5 million loan from Spruce Capital. The investment firm’s co-founder Joshua Crane helped develop Trump International Hotel & Tower in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 2006. Then, in November, the firm secured a $9.5 million loan from the Federal Savings Bank of Chicago, founded and chaired by Stephen M. Calk, a senior economic adviser to Trump during his campaign.
    Was this $13 million to reimburse Manafort for money he used to buy GOP nomination for Trump?

  7. pseudonymous in nc says:

    OTish: one little nugget from the Papadopoulos arraignment hearing that stuck out was “location data” as part of the corroborating evidence for false statements. That could just be as dumb as PapaD checking in online on certain days in certain places, but it could also be GeoIP or triangulation data.

    Where might location data — as opposed to timestamps — be relevant in the statement of facts? The meeting with Mifsud in Rome? The meetings in London? The Skype convos with Not Putin’s Niece?

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      Oh, Josh Marshall drew attention to a bit of the FBI affidavit tonight, which didn’t make it into the plea statement:

       On or about July 22,2016, PAPADOPOULOS messaged Foreign Contact 2 on Facebook to ask whether Foreign Contact 2 knew a particular individual with extensive ties to Russian-based businesses and persons. PAPADOPOULOS asked Foreign Contact 2 “[i]f you know any background of him that is noteworthy before I see him, kindly send my way.”

      Foreign Contact 2 is presumably Ivan Timofeyev. Particular Individual is presumably not Russian but has lots of Russian contacts. July 22 is (perhaps coincidentally) the day of the first Wikileaks/DNC release. The next reference is to a contact in October.

  8. pseudonymous in nc says:

    One more OTish thing: there’s something impish about the government response (again Weissman, Andres, Freeny) to Manafort’s proposal to put up a bunch of properties for bail, basically requesting that he spill the beans on a bunch of LLCs and foreign assets, and also saying that the properties he bought for cash and immediately mortgaged aren’t worth anywhere near as much as he claims. The tone’s all “really, you’re going to post bail with the proceeds you got from all that money laundering? Really? You’re going to do that?”

    • bmaz says:

      Well, yes and no. it hints at it as you note. But there is a specific process, colloquially know as a Nebbia source determination, whereby the Government can demand a defendant prove that his bail assets are clean and not tainted as to their source. The Government curiously has not made such a request. And it does not appear to me the odds are good that Manafort’s reals estate assets would ever clear such a hearing.

    • orionATL says:

      but per the article, ace counterintelligence agent peter strozok left the team after but a few weeks and is now working in fbi human resources?

      what? human resources?

      what’s he doing there? reading thru personnel files :)

  9. Willis Warren says:

    http://pview.findlaw.com/view/1752396_1

    I imagine Quarles as the guy who is trying to determine if the White House (Trump) committed a crime. The Daily Beast seems to think so,

    https://www.thedailybeast.com/watergate-veteran-takes-center-stage-in-trump-russia-probe
    One source said Mueller himself is always “fully up to date on the White House portion” of the probe, and that Quarles handles the bulk of the day-to-day interactions between the White House and the special counsel. He communicates with the White House several times a week regarding Mueller’s queries, document requests, and planned interviews. As the probe progresses, the White House team’s communication with Quarles has become increasingly frequent.

  10. harpie says:

    I know this is not an original observation, but

    [OT RANT]
    Those who kill large numbers people in random rampages often have a documented HISTORY of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE!
    [end OT RANT]

  11. Rugger9 says:

    It seems Natalia is bored, and fingered Junior again.  TPM has a good backgrounder on what Veselnitskaya’s interview really means: a quid pro quo.

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/russia-puts-the-squeeze-on-don-jr and

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/russian-lawyer-claims-don-junior-proposed-review-magnitsky-act-bloomberg

    How many of Mueller’s team is looking at Junior?

    Papadopoulos’ testimony is not complete, either: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/mueller-papdopoulos-timeline-wikileaks-emails.

    One wonders how

    We have as well a document dump called the “Paradise Papers” that implicates several administration figures, including Wilbur Ross.  So Wilburrrrr mentioned that he doesn’t think it was a problem.  Now, when it comes to stuff like this replace Wilburrrrr with Hillary and see if the GOP-owned press handles it the same way.

    https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/nov/05/what-are-the-paradise-papers-and-what-do-they-tell-us and
    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/reports-leaked-files-show-wilbur-ross-putin-son-in-law-share-business-ties

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