While we watch the Trump administration spin its wheels and the Republican Congress do everything except legislate, special counsel Robert Mueller is assembling his team very quietly.
If one looks closely, these are experts in the field of financial crime.
And this is a stealthy cast of characters…
Aaron Zebley, Mueller’s chief of staff when he was FBI director
- Zebley was an elite FBI agent for 7 years in the Counterterrorism Division
- He was instrumental in tracking down dangerous Al Qaeda members back in 1999
- He then became a prosecutor and one of Mueller’s go-to confidants
- He was part of the I-49 team: a small group of FBI agents based in NYC who were actively searching for Osama Bin Laden before the 9/11 attacks
James Quarles III, former Watergate investigator
- A litigator and a partner at WilmerHale, where he started in 1975. He runs the DC office of the firm
- He served as an assistant special prosecutor for the Watergate investigation
- During that investigation, Quarles focused on campaign finance research — something that will certainly be called upon throughout the Russia investigation, particularly after the FBI issued subpoenas for financial disclosures from Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort
- He has argued cases in front of the Supreme Court
Jeannie Rhee, former deputy attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel
- Rhee was senior adviser to former Attornery General Eric Holder for two years
- She advised him and the WH on “constitutional, statutory and regulatory issues regarding criminal law, criminal procedure, executive privilege, civil rights and national security,” according to WilmerHale.
- She tried more than 30 cases when she served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the D.C. Attorney’s Office
- She rejoined WilmerHale as a partner in the Litigation/Controversy Department where she advised “clients who are the subject of government investigations” regarding “white-collar criminal investigations, False Claims Act allegations and securities enforcement matters.”
- In 2015, Rhee represented Hillary Clinton in a case about her private email server, according to Politico.
Andrew Weissmann, DOJ criminal fraud section chief
- He was Mueller’s one-time general counsel
- Previously led the fraud unit at the DOJ
- Weismann oversaw the Enron Task Force in the early 2000s, investigating the failed energy company
- From 1991 to 2002, Weissmann handled cases against various crime families in NY as part of his work in the office of the U.S. Attorney for New York’s Eastern District
- He worked at a law firm where he focused on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, securities fraud, and other issues.
Michael Dreeben, DOJ’s deputy solicitor general
- Dreeben currently serves in the Justice Department, overseeing its criminal docket before the Supreme Court and handling its appellate cases
- He has argued more than 100 cases in front of the Supreme Court
- He was a deputy in the Office of the Solicitor General
- He’s been heralded as “1 of the top legal & appellate minds at DOJ in modern times,” and has been called “the most brilliant and most knowledgeable federal criminal lawyer in America—period.”
Lisa Page, an experienced DOJ trial attorney
- There has been no official announcement from the special counsel about Page, but WIRED notes Mueller has reached out to her
- Her investigatory expertise: organized crime cases, money laundering, and one particularly relevant case where she partnered with Hungary’s FBI task force to investigate European organized crime.
Note: Her work in Hungary is what led to the ongoing money laundering case against Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian leader who was once business partners with Paul Manafort.
Andrew Weissman is a person of particular note as he is known for “flipping witnesses.”
Andrew Weissmann, who headed the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal fraud section before joining Mueller’s team last month, is best known for two assignments – the investigation of now-defunct energy company Enron and organized crime cases in Brooklyn, New York – that depended heavily on gaining witness cooperation.
Securing the cooperation of people close to Trump, many of whom have been retaining their own lawyers, could be important for Mueller, who was named by the Justice Department as special counsel on May 17 and is investigating, among other issues, whether Trump himself has sought to obstruct justice. Trump has denied allegations of both collusion and obstruction.
“Flipping” witnesses is a common, although not always successful, tactic in criminal prosecutions.
Robert Ray, who succeeded Kenneth Starr as the independent counsel examining former President Bill Clinton, noted that Trump’s fired former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, has already offered through his lawyer to testify before Congress in exchange for immunity, suggesting potential willingness to cooperate as a witness.
“It would seem to me the time is now to make some decisions about what you have and what leverage can be applied to get the things you don’t have,” Ray said, referring to Mueller’s team.
I think the depth and breadth, the warp and weave of all things Trump and Russia is going to be quite a tale.
Better than any crime fiction written.