Sunday, December 03, 2017
What it's like to face the Special Counsel
I thought this was a fascinating look inside the Mueller investigation. It doesn't tell us anything about what they know (other than that they seem to be very interested in Jared Kushner.) It just gives you a flavor of what it's like to be in the crosshairs of Robert Mueller, who is referred to as a "Sphinx-like figure."
Once inside, most witnesses are seated in a windowless conference room where two- and three-person teams of FBI agents and prosecutors rotate in and out, pressing them for answers.
Among the topics that have been of keen interest to investigators: how foreign government officials and their emissaries contacted Trump officials, as well as the actions and interplay of Flynn and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.
Mueller’s group has also inquired whether Flynn recommended specific foreign meetings to senior aides, including Kushner. Investigators were particularly interested in how certain foreign officials got on Kushner’s calendar and the discussions that Flynn and Kushner had about those encounters, according to people familiar with the questions.
Often listening in is the special counsel himself, a sphinx-like presence who sits quietly along the wall for portions of key interviews.
This picture of Mueller’s operation — drawn from descriptions of witnesses, lawyers and others briefed on the interviews — provides a rare look inside the high-stakes investigation that could implicate Trump’s circle and determine the future of his presidency.
The locked-down nature of the probe has left both the witnesses and the public scrutinizing every move of the special counsel for meaning, without any certainty about the full scope of his investigation.
At least two dozen people who traveled in Trump’s orbit in 2016 and 2017 — on the campaign trail, in his transition operation and then in the White House — have been questioned in the past 10 weeks, according to people familiar with the interviews.
The most high profile is Kushner, who met with Mueller’s team in November, as well as former chief of staff Reince Priebus and former press secretary Sean Spicer. Former foreign policy adviser J.D. Gordon has also been interviewed.
White House communications director Hope Hicks was scheduled to sit down with Mueller’s team a few days before Thanksgiving. Mueller’s team has also indicated plans to interview senior associate White House counsel James Burnham and policy adviser Stephen Miller.
McGahn, who was interviewed by Mueller’s prosecutors for a full day Thursday, was scheduled to return Friday to complete his interview. However, the special counsel postponed the session as a courtesy to allow McGahn to help the White House manage the response to Flynn’s plea, a person familiar with the interview said.
Cobb declined to say which White House aides remain to be interviewed.
Several people who worked shoulder to shoulder with Flynn have also been interviewed by Mueller’s operation. That includes retired Gen. Keith Kellogg, the chief of staff to the National Security Council, as well as several people who worked with Flynn Intel Group, a now-shuttered private consulting firm.
People who have gone before Mueller’s team describe polite but detailed and intense grillings that at times have lasted all day and involved more than a dozen investigators. Spicer, for example, was in the office from about 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. for his fall session. Mueller’s team has recommended nearby lunch spots, but many witnesses have food brought in for fear of being spotted if they go outside.
Mueller has attended some interviews, introducing himself to witnesses when he enters and then sitting along the wall. Sometimes he is joined by his deputy, longtime friend and law partner James Quarles, a former Watergate prosecutor who is the main point of contact for the White House.
Investigators bring large binders filled with emails and documents into the interview room. One witness described the barrage of questions that followed each time an agent passed them a copy of an email they had been copied on: “Do you remember this email? How does the White House work? How does the transition work? Who was taking the lead on foreign contacts? How did that work? Who was involved in this decision? Who was there that weekend?”
Some witnesses were introduced to so many federal agents and lawyers that they later lamented that they had largely forgotten many of their names by the time one team left the room and a new team entered.
“They say, ‘Hey, we’re not trying to be rude, but people are going to come in and out a lot,’ ” one witness explained about the teams. “They kind of cycle in and out of the room.”
One contingent of investigators is focused on whether Trump tried to obstruct justice and head off the investigation into Russian meddling by firing Comey in May. Prosecutors Brandon Van Grack and Jeannie Rhee have been involved in matters related to Flynn.
Yet another team is led by the former head of the Justice Department’s fraud prosecutions, Andrew Weissman, and foreign bribery expert Greg Andres. Those investigators queried lobbyists from some of the most powerful lobby shops in town about their interactions with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign adviser Rick Gates.
Mueller’s team charged Manafort and Gates last month with engaging in a conspiracy to hide millions of dollars in foreign accounts and secretly creating an elaborate cover story to conceal their lobbying work for a former Ukrainian president and his pro-Russian political party. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Lawyers familiar with prosecutors’ questions about Manafort said they expect several more charges to come from this portion of the case.
People familiar with the Mueller team said they convey a sense of calm that is unsettling.
“These guys are confident, impressive, pretty friendly — joking a little, even,” one lawyer said. When prosecutors strike that kind of tone, he said, defense lawyers tend to think: “Uh oh, my guy is in a heap of trouble.”
I wouldn't want to have to face them. And I would guess that it's very unwise to lie to them although knowing the motley crew around Trump it's probable that some did.
I don't have big expectations for this probe. They may be able to prove Trump obstructed justice but the Republicans would have to vote to impeach him and they are supporting known pedophiles for office these days so I can't imagine they care at all about that. Just as Trump said not paying any taxes on his millions would "make me smart", they would surely believe that obstructing justice would be just as brilliant.
digby 12/03/2017 01:30:00 PM