This really looks like they’re setting somebody up for an indictment, and they’re covering all their bases.
Robert Mueller has set one of his team out to explore every possible angle to presidential pardons, in what appears to be an effort to get ahead of what might come after someone involved with the ongoing Russia probe faces charges.
Mueller has tasked Michael Dreeben with gathering what they see, judging by Trump’s tweets, as the necessary information to move forward.
Acting as Mueller’s top legal counsel, Dreeben has been researching past pardons and determining what, if any, limits exist, according to a person familiar with the matter. Dreeben’s broader brief is to make sure the special counsel’s prosecutorial moves are legally airtight. That could include anything from strategizing on novel interpretations of criminal law to making sure the recent search warrant on ex-campaign adviser Paul Manafort’s home would stand up to an appeal.
“He’s seen every criminal case of any consequence in the last 20 years,” said Kathryn Ruemmler of Latham & Watkins LLP, who served as White House counsel under President Barack Obama. “If you wanted to do a no-knock warrant, he’d be a great guy to consult with to determine if you were exposing yourself.”
Dreeben has over three decades of experience as an appeals lawyer with the Justice Department. He’s served as a deputy solicitor general and has worked more than a thousand federal criminal prosecutions.
In fact, even as he’s working for Mueller’s investigatory team, he’s retained some of his work as solicitor general.
The fear surrounding President Trump and those members of his team that have fallen under scrutiny is that Trump could be quite generous with his pardon powers, and Mueller wants any case made against any of his associates to stick.
When Trump pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, even before there was a sentencing, it struck many as highly inappropriate. His continued ranting about the “witch hunt” of the Russia probe doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that he’ll leave it alone, should charges come from the investigation, either.
Also, as pointed out in the Bloomberg piece, Trump has looked at the power to pardon.
Pre-emptive pardons are a distinct possibility now that current and former Trump advisers are under Mueller’s scrutiny. Trump himself has tweeted that everyone agrees the U.S. president has “complete power to pardon.” Some of those kinds of executive moves have been well studied, including Gerald Ford’s swift pardon of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton’s exoneration of fugitive financier Marc Rich. But the legal territory is largely uncharted over pardons of a president’s own campaign workers, family members or even himself — and how prosecutors’ work would then be affected.
Dreeben, however, is highly qualified to undertake this particular arm of the investigation. He’s worked with and against the best, including Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, when Roberts was a private practice lawyer.
He lost that first case against Roberts, but has since appeared before him in his role as a Justice, many times.
During one such appearance:
“You have consistently advocated positions on behalf of the United States in an exemplary manner,” Roberts said, extending the court’s appreciation for his “many years of advocacy and dedicated service.”
Quite the kudos.
Think what you want about this ongoing investigation, but if they’re working to shore up their case against pardons, it’s not because they don’t feel like they have anything to pursue.