Diary

The Mueller Probe, Part 3: Mueller's Band of Misfits

For previous entries, see part 1 here and part 2 here.

Before examining the results of the Special Counsel’s report, we need to look at some of the people Mueller hired as prosecutors and investigators.  Under Mueller were three key top prosecutors followed by more prosecutors and then the actual investigators who did the grunt work.  He tapped Michael Drebeen who had argued over 100 cases before the Supreme Court.  James Quarles had worked on the Watergate task force focusing on campaign finance violations.  But the key person is Andrew Weissman who took a leave of absence from the DOJ’s criminal fraud division which he headed to join the Mueller probe.

From 1991 to 2002, Weissman worked for the DOJ in the US attorney’s field office in eastern New York.  He was involved in the prosecution of several high profile organized crime cases especially those concerning the Gambino crime family.  Then from 2002-2005, he was a lead prosecutor in the Enron scandal.  He also served as Mueller’s chief counsel when Mueller was FBI director.  

His credentials, on paper, are admittedly impressive.  There is no secret that he has a no-holds-barred reputation as a prosecutor.  It was the Enron case that first showed some disturbing behaviors by a prosecutor.  According to unsealed documents in that case, Weissman engaged in a pattern of intimidating witnesses and leveraging attorney-client privilege against another witness.  Although there were complaints, the judge in the Enron case refused to accept the affidavits since many of those making the complaints were “off the record” since they feared retaliation.  There was an attempt to push one attorney- Dan Codgell- off the case.  Weissman empaneled multiple grand juries over the course of the three year investigation that resulted in no new cases or a refreshing of a previous case, but merely to hold the possibility of prosecution as a cudgel to hold over the head of approximately 90 other people.

He also led an investigation into the accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, which led to the collapse of that firm and the unemployment of its 85,000 worldwide employees.  In 2005, partly due to his conduct, the convictions were overturned 9-0 by the US Supreme Court.  This was small vindication for the already ruined reputations of those he prosecuted, and the 85,000 unemployed people.  As part of the Enron investigation, he managed to criminalize transactions between the energy company and Merrill Lynch.  Pending their appeals, he managed for the court to deny bail to executives who were no flight risk.  Later analysis showed that the charges against both Arthur Andersen and Merrill Lynch were “concocted” and “unprecedented.”  In the Merrill Lynch case, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the convictions.

After a stint in private practice, Weissman became Mueller’s general counsel, then moved over to head the criminal fraud division of the DOJ when Comey replaced Mueller at the FBI.  On election night 2016, Weissman attended the Hillary Clinton victory party that was not to be.  Early in the Trump administration when Trump’s DOJ issued a travel ban, several people within the DOJ refused to enforce it.  One of those people was Sally Yates, for which she was fired.  Before that, Weissman sent her an email congratulating her for her stand and expressing his pride in her actions.

During the Mueller probe, Weissman ordered a pre-dawn raid on the home of Paul Manafort in Virginia that lasted for hours.  When Manafort went to prison on charges having absolutely nothing to do with Russian election interference, he was placed in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.  Weissman recommended a prison term of 19-24 years; Manafort got 47 months, less than 4 years.  Despite these drawbacks, even his actions against organized crime figures in the 1990s was called into question.

In 1997, the judge in one case officially reprimanded Weissman for holding back exculpatory evidence against one defendant.  One lawyer officially requested that he be removed from a case and he was reported to the DOJ’s Inspector General and Senate Judiciary Committee for misconduct.  

One defendant named Scarpa was involved in a personal relationship with his FBI handler, Lindley DeVecchio.  DeVecchio was also a witness in a case against Anthony Persico.  Weissman had DeVecchio testify as a witness against Michael Sessa, who was a captain in the Colombo crime family at the time, although he knew that DeVecchio was under investigation by the FBI for their relationship with Scarpa.  Knowing this, Weissman failed to disclose the relationship or the investigation to the court and instead portrayed DeVecchio as a solid witness.  With the Arthur Andersen case, despite pleas from the company not to indict the entire firm (they were prosecuted when a few people destroyed documents), Weissman ignored their pleas and reportedly said he did not care if the entire firm folded (it did).

In addition, from his days as a federal prosecutor in New York, the territory covered Brooklyn.  The US attorney at that time was Loretta Lynch.  Subsequent reports indicated that Weissman was part of a small group that included Lynch who would hang together socially.

Another prosecutor was Aaron Zebley.  He spent seven years at the FBI as a special agent in the Counterterrorism Division and served as Mueller’s chief of staff at the FBI.  He was a former assistant US attorney in Alexandria and his expertise is cybersecurity.  Adam Jed was brought on even though he was formerly employed with Perkin Coie.  Omer Meisel was likely hired given his association with Weissman since he assisted in the Enron case as an investigator for the SEC.  Other agents hired were Robert Gibbs who worked on Chinese espionage cases, Sherine Ebadi whose expertise was corporate fraud, Jennifer Edwards, and expert in computer crimes, Jason Alberts who investigated public corruption within the New York City Police Department, and Brock Domin for his expertise in technology and his Russian language skills.

Jason Alberts assisted in the prosecution of Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch attorney, who was charged with lying to investigators probing a report prepared by the Ukrainian government on the trial of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.  He was also in court for all the proceedings against Manafort.  The case against Manafort had to do with his lobbying efforts on behalf of the previous pro-Russian Ukrainian government that was ousted in the bloody Maidan revolution.  

Gibbs was involved in the Papadopolous case and ordered his high profile public arrest at the airport as he returned from a trip to Germany.  Jennifer Edwards was instrumental in having the court documents against Papadoplous sealed while Sherine Edabi was instrumental in the prosecution of Rick Gates, the business partner of Manafort.  Again, this prosecution had nothing to do with Russian election interference.  Meisel became the chief prosecutor in the Manafort case.  Brock Domin was the investigator that uncovered the fact that Manafort had helped edit an op-ed under the byline of a former Ukrainian government official.  

Domin used Manafort’s lawyers against their client citing that the eventual FARA filings were false and misleading.  Manafort had placed responsibility for the filing with his attorneys.  In effect, Domin played the attorneys against Manafort to secure a conviction of Manafort.

One FBI agent of note was Walter Giardina who was assigned the task of investigating ties between Russia and Michael Flynn.  He was also one of the two FBI agents who were present for the interview of Dennis Montgomery of HAMMER fame.  The other FBI agent in the HAMMER case was William Barnett and he too landed on the Mueller probe and was assigned to the Flynn aspect.  He, along with Giardina, interviewed freelance writer Hank Cox who helped Flynn prepare an op-ed echoing the Turkish government’s views over the extradition of an exiled Muslim cleric living in the US.  That work was paid for by a Turkish business firm with ties to the Turkish government.

As far as the actual Russian collusion aspect of the probe goes, that task was initially supervised by Peter Strozk.  When the derogatory text messages between Strozk and Lisa Page became public, he was kicked off the probe and his job given to David Archey who had been in charge of the Birmingham, Alabama field office and was involved tangentially in the Hillary Clinton private server investigation.

Next: What did the Mueller probe “prove?”