Mueller’s disturbing staffing decisions

When people in Washington talk on the record about Robert Mueller, they gush. Terms like “straight shooter” and “unquestioned integrity” flow freely.

Of course, the same was once true of Mueller’s friend, James Comey.

When I talk off the record to people I trust who know Mueller, there’s less gushing, but no expression of alarm. One former prosecutor who knew him at the Justice Department says: “My sense is that he’s independent, but doesn’t make a fetish of it, as I’m afraid Comey does.”

Yet, there may be cause for concern. In my view, Mueller’s friendship with Comey is one. Some of Mueller’s key staffing decisions are another.

Mueller has selected Deputy solicitor general Michael Dreeben as one of his advisers. Dreeben is a premier criminal law expert. However, he’s considered a left-winger by people whose judgment I trust. And Preet Bharara — former US attorney of the Southern District of New York and current Trump adversary — says he’s over-the-moon about Dreeban’s selection.

Dreeben does not owe his selection to investigative prowess. He’s on the team to evaluate whether the fruits of the investigation give rise to a crime.

That’s fine if Dreeben has no agenda. But if he’s anti-Trump, there’s reason to fear he will bend over backwards to spin out a theory through which Trump can be prosecuted.

Mueller has also tapped Jeannie Rhee, formerly a federal prosecutor and high-level Justice Department official. Rhee provided legal services for the Clinton Foundation, a fact the Washington Post omits from its account. In addition, she donated $5,400 to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign PAC “Hillary for America.”

As bitter as the Clintonistas are about losing the election (or rather having it “stolen” by the Russians), it seems unconscionable that Rhee would be on a team that will decide whether to prosecute President Trump at the end of a “Russian interference” investigation. (Dreeben donated $1,000 dollars to Hillary Clinton’s Senate political action committee (PAC) back in the day. This doesn’t strike me as problematic because it doesn’t relate to the 2016 election).

James Quarles, who served as an assistant special prosecutor on the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, is also on Mueller’s team. He donated to “Hillary for America” in 2016.

Andrew Weissmann, who serves in a top post within the Justice Department’s fraud practice, is a key member of Mueller’s team. He served as the FBI’s general counsel and the assistant director to Mueller when the special counsel was FBI director, so it’s natural that Mueller turned to him.

Weissmann was a contributor to Obama campaigns, but not, as far as I can tell, to Clinton’s. Again, I see no problem here. I doubt that any prosecutor could assemble a team that included no one who has donated to Democrats.

Jared Kushner’s New York Observer ran a series of scathing stories depicting Weissmann as a strong-arm prosecutor who “ran roughshod” over defendants’ rights during the Enron investigation. Kushner’s conduct will be part of the Mueller investigation, so this might be a matter of concern. Indeed, if Weissmann is the kind of prosecutor Kushner’s newspaper depicted that too would be concerning (I don’t know one way or the other whether the New York Observer’s portrait is accurate.)

To summarize, Mueller’s selection of Rhee is alarming. To put a Clintonista on his team suggests either poor judgment or anti-Trump bias. It also suggests that Mueller sees himself as “bullet proof.”

Mueller’s selection of Dreeben is also alarming, if what I’m hearing about the guy is accurate. Indeed, it may be even more alarming than the selection of Rhee. Dreeben, after all, will likely play the key role at “crunch time” — the time when Mueller must decide whether the evidence supports bringing criminal charges against the President of the United States.

Weissmann’s selection is alarming if the New York Observer’s portrait is accurate. It is concerning for Jared Kushner, in any case. Quarles’ selection seems less than ideal.

Add it all up, and throw in the Mueller’s friendship with Comey, and I think you have a recipe for unfairness and, quite possibly, abuse.

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