As far as legal teams can be totally fucking badass, the team that special counsel Robert Swan Mueller III has put together for this Trump investigation is totally fucking badass. It comprises some of the leading investigators, prosecutors, and experts in the fields of each part of the investigation. You’ve got specialists in financial crimes such as money laundering and international corruption, experts in obstruction of justice and in flipping witnesses, and people with deep experience in massive global investigations.
When we take a closer look at whom Mueller hired we can get a pretty good idea of where this case is headed. For instance, when it came time for Mueller to choose a point man to communicate with the White House, he named a lawyer who worked Watergate. Nixon, remember, went down for obstruction of justice.
Quarles now interacts with the White House several times a week and Mueller asks for frequent updates.
Who’s the White House sage and scholar Quarles interacts with? For this key position, Mr. Trump predictably hired a lawyer named Ty Cobb who looks like this.
Recently, Cobb was overheard talking loudly about details of the Russia investigation (including documents the White House counsel kept in a safe and wouldn’t let Cobb see) in a D.C. steakhouse within earshot of reporters from the Failing New York Times.
So now, I offer as quick, insightful, and entertaining a breakdown of a government legal team you’ll find this side of someplace very boring indeed. We’re still in the opening stages, but I’ll also show you where Mueller’s investigation, and possible prosecutions, are headed. Ready? Let’s! Get! Legal!
Setting The Stage for Stupid
Last month we learned Mueller empaneled a new grand jury in Washington, D.C., literally a few hundred yards from the White House. We also learned this jury issued subpoenas (for documents or witness testimony, unclear which) related to the Trump Tower meeting DJTJ set up with representatives of the Russian government. We also learned Mueller has requested documents from the White House relating to Michael “Whoops-a-Daisy!” Flynn. There’s already at least one other grand jury we know about, located in Alexandria, VA, just across the river from D.C. This jury has issued subpoenas for Flynn and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Mueller raided Manafort’s home and warned he might be indicted.
—By setting the jury up in D.C., Mueller will have ready access whenever he needs it.
—The D.C. jury pool wouldn’t be favorable to Trump. About 4% of the city voted for him.
—Also, note that juries are impanelled in the jurisdiction of the crimes being investigated.
In the end, this means crimes might have occurred in the White House. You know who lives there. (Occasionally.)
What’s At Stake
There are three parts to this investigation:
1. Counterintelligence: The Trump campaign’s conspiracy with Russia to cheat to undermine American democracy.
2. Financial crimes: Trump et al’s financial ties to Russia, money laundering, etc.
3. Obstruction of Justice: The pattern the White House has displayed again and again and again and again.
Mueller hasn’t hired many counterintelligence experts. Most of his prosecutors are experts in financial crimes, witness flipping, and procedural stuff related to obstruction of justice. This doesn’t mean the counterintelligence investigation is empty; it means the other two will move much faster. Of the three, the counterintelligence case presents the most challenges and complexities.
The fastest mover will likely be the obstruction of justice investigation. That’s why the D.C. grand jury matters: The White House is a potential crime scene. (Bizarre sentence.) What’s more, there are two obstruction cases: Trump’s attempts to obstruct Comey from investigating Michael Flynn (a case unrelated to the Russia investigation); and Mr. Trump’s attempts to obstruct the Russia investigation itself (asking Comey to clear the Russia “cloud”; then writing a letter firing Comey because of Russia; then asking the heads of three other intel agencies to publicly discredit the FBI and Comey; then trying personally to cover up his son’s meeting at Trump Tower; etc etc).
Mueller’s D.C. grand jury issued subpoenas relating directly to that Trump Tower meeting, and last month Vox broke a story that acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told senior FBI officials, in May, to consider themselves witnesses in an obstruction of justice investigation of Mr. Trump.
Let’s take a look at Mueller’s obstruction team.
Dumb Watergate, Stupid Inception
It’s pretty obvious that Mr. Trump sucks at obstructing justice. At 71 years of age, he still hasn’t learned the virtues of tact or subtlety. He’s never consciously experienced a consequence. His only negotiating tool is extortion, which often isn’t so much extortion as it is unvarnished threats. Mr. Trump thinks he can do whatever he wants, which leads him to do and say incriminating things constantly, to lie for absolutely no reason, and ask people to commit crimes and lie on his behalf. This, as fellow Paste writer Jacob Weindling coined it, is Dumb Watergate.
To go along with Dumb Watergate, we also have what I call “Stupid Inception”: When Trump asked Sessions to resign after Trump fired Comey, he obstructed his own obstruction.
Together, we can call the investigation Dumb Stupid.
Fitting, then, that one of the first people Mueller hired was James Quarles, an Assistant United States Attorney who started his career on the Watergate Special Prosecution Force. And what brought Nixon down? The cover-up: Obstruction of justice. But guess what Quarles specialized in during the Watergate investigation? Campaign finances, which Flynn and Manafort have been subpoenaed for.
Now Quarles is Mueller’s liaison to the White House. That sends a pretty clear message.
Onto our next badass of writs, codes, and torts: Former solicitor general Michael Dreeben, who has argued over 100 cases in front of the Supreme Court, once without any notes, and is by some accounts the top criminal attorney in the country. Preet Bharara, former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, said, “Dreeben is 1 of the top legal & appellate minds at DOJ in modern times.” Paul Rosenzweig, former deputy in the Department of Homeland Security, said that the fact Mueller hired Dreeben (“possibly the best criminal appellate lawyer in America”) is the thing that should worry Trump the most.
As far as Dumb Stupid goes, Dreeben appealed, unsuccessfully, in a Supreme Court case involving notorious accounting firm Arthur Anderson, where he argued for a broad interpretation of “obstruction of justice.” His specific argument was for a broad definition of “intent,” which, as we’ve seen, cowards are using to excuse Trump’s crime, which is so obviously a crime it can’t be excused any other way. The Supreme Court rejected Dreeben unanimously, but Trump should worry about that very specific, very relevant experience.
The majority of Mueller’s legal team have experience prosecuting financial crimes, white collar crimes, corruption, graft, organized crime, etc etc. I can’t think of a better way to describe Trump’s financial structure than in those terms. It’s massive, and it’s shady as Eminem waiting to make a drug deal under a baobab tree during a solar eclipse. Mueller likely has Trump’s taxes already, and if he doesn’t he’ll probably get them soon. I won’t list all key players, but here are four, in no particular order.
Janine Rhee: a prosecutor who worked with Mueller at his former law firm, WilmerHale. Rhee was also former senior adviser to former Attorney General Eric Holder, so she’s an expert at the inner workings of the DOJ. She’s specialized in financial crimes (including tax fraud…), as well as in prosecuting Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO).
Greg Andres: Foreign deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ’s criminal division. He was in charge of the fraud unit there, and of specific interest, the team that handled illegal foreign bribery. Andres cut his teeth in Brooklyn, where he prosecuted some mafioso, including members of the Bonanno crime family.
Andrew Weissmann: At one point this guy was Mueller’s counsel at the FBI. Weissmann led the Justice Department’s fraud unit. He ran the famous Enron Task Force, which brought the energy company down. Weissmann’s experience includes the investigation into Volkswagen for rigging its emissions tests and an enormous global financial crimes investigation into Brazil’s state-owned oil company, Petrobras.
Like Andres, Weissmann started out in organized crime, and as a result he’s something of an expert in flipping witnesses. In the Enron case, for instance, Weissman won the cooperation of key witnesses that led to the damning verdict. The counterintelligence case against Trump himself would possibly require one of the central figures to flip on the President.
Lisa Page: Expert in money laundering and RICO. Notably, Page worked with an FBI task force investigating organized crime in eastern Europe. Now get this: That task force built the ongoing money laundering case against Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch with close ties to Putin… and to Paul Manafort, a former business partner.
Mueller hasn’t hired too many prosecutors with espionage experience. I’ll reflect on what this might mean in a bit. But here’s the most notable:
Aaron Zebley: Former Assistant U.S. Attorney at the EDVA (the district where the Flynn jury is impanelled), as wells as Mueller’s own former Chief of Staff at the FBI. (Congress thought so much of Mueller that they actually extended his ten-year term for two years.) When Mueller left, Zebley went over to the National Security Division, the part of the DOJ in charge of counterterrorism and counterintelligence cases. He then went to work with Mueller at WilmerHale on some major cases, including the investigation into the NFL for the way it handled (or didn’t) the high-profile domestic violence incident involving Ray Rice. Zebley also worked on the VW scandal.
The End of the Beginning
Now we’re at the end, the first thing I’ll tack on here is that Mueller’s team comprises ambitious lawyers who left high-paying jobs, likely on partner tracks. Three of them (Zebley, Quarles, and Rhee) came from WilmerHale, where they worked closely with Mueller after he left the FBI in 2013. They left because they’d rather make history than money.
There’s also the notable lack of counterintelligence experts. This could mean a few things. One, they’ve found no evidence of the conspiracy. Two, it’s going to take a long time to unwind that case. We can’t really rule either one out, but I do want to note Mueller does have Zebley onboard, and criminal charges, especially the obstruction case with its mountain of readily available, very public evidence, will move faster than a massive, clandestine international operation designed to be impossible to figure out.
We can be almost certain the election conspiracy is tied up into these other crimes. Here’s one such scenario: Trump rents condos to shell companies that launder money from Russia. That gives Russia influence, and kompromat, over the President. This is one reason he did (does) what Putin wants, then obstructed the investigation into it.
Since you’ve come this far, here’s a little dessert:
Marc Kasowitz, who’s been Trump’s personal attorney for years and was his lead lawyer on Russia, resigned from that post after news of the Trump Tower meeting broke. Jay Sekulow took over and almost immediately lied about Trump’s cover-up of that meeting in multiple TV appearances.
Then there’s the great Ty Cobb, whom Trump hired to “enforce discipline in the White House regarding Russia matters.” Cobb, I’ll note, specializes in defending white-collar crime and corruption. Of taking the job, Cobb said, “If the president asks you, you don’t say no. I have rocks in my head and steel balls.”
Mr. Trump denies any collusion by his campaign, calling the investigation a “hoax,” a “witch hunt,” a “total fabrication,” and a “big Dem scam and excuse for losing the election.”
Or in the very real words of Ty Cobb, “I am on’t be here for long but will be I my piece against bullshit Russian bullshit.”
Who will win this epic battle? It’s anybody’s guess.