I posted about this earlier, Robert Mueller is assembling a ‘dream team’ of prosecutors, now Wired has an update on some additional hires. Robert Mueller Chooses His Investigatory Dream Team:
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP had almost certainly never heard the name Aaron Zebley before the announcement that the former FBI agent was joining the special counsel investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia. But to those who have followed the arc of the bureau during the past twenty years, Zebley’s is a name that underscores just how far-reaching and dogged—and potentially long—the probe will likely be.
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The details of … the capture of one of America’s most wanted terrorists by Zebley and Gaudin—help illuminate the makeup of the special counsel team that former FBI director Robert Mueller is assembling. It’s a team that contains some of the nation’s top investigators and leading experts on seemingly every aspect of the potential investigation—from specific crimes like money laundering and campaign finance violations to understanding how to navigate both sprawling globe-spanning cases and the complex local dynamics of Washington power politics.
[I]n recent days, Trump associates have stepped up criticism of Mueller and his team—including a report, quickly rejected by the White House, that Trump is considering firing Mueller before he even gets started.
Tuesday morning on Good Morning America, Newt Gingrich blasted Mueller and his still-forming team. “These are bad people,” Newt Gingrich told George Stephanopoulos. “I’m very dubious of the team.”
But that criticism flies in the face of widespread, bipartisan acclaim for the team. In fact, just a day earlier, on the same program, former Whitewater prosecutor Ken Starr praised Mueller at length. “I don’t think there’s a legitimate concern about Bob Mueller,” Starr said, explaining that the former FBI director was “honest as the day is long.”
From the list of hires, it’s clear, in fact, that Mueller is recruiting perhaps the most high-powered and experienced team of investigators ever assembled by the Justice Department. His team began with three lawyers who also quickly left WilmerHale, the law firm where Mueller has also worked since he left the FBI in 2013—Zebley, James Quarles III, and Jeannie Rhee.
The rapid recruitment of Quarles attracted immediate attention: A famed litigator who was an assistant special prosecutor for the Watergate investigation, Quarles specialized in campaign finance research for the Watergate task force, which surely will be an area of focus for Mueller’s investigation. (The FBI has been serving subpoenas regarding the finances of campaign adviser Michael Flynn and campaign chairman Paul Manafort, both of whom have retroactively registered as foreign agents, admitting that they were paid by foreign governments during the period when they were also advising Trump.) In more recent years, Quarles has risen through the law firm’s ranks to run its DC office, and is an experienced manager. In granting him the firm’s top recognition in 2007, one of his colleagues said that Quarles “represents precisely the values that should define us culturally and reputationally: He is an excellent lawyer, he is an extraordinary hard worker, he is the ultimate team player, and he treats everyone with respect and collegiality.”
More recently, Mueller has recruited Andrew Weissmann, his one-time general counsel at the FBI and a long-time adviser who once led the Justice Department’s fraud unit. In the early 2000s, Weissmann also oversaw the Enron Task Force, the storied Justice Department unit that investigated the complex machinations of the failed energy giant. (The task force’s team of prosecutors was so well-respected that they went on to dominate the Justice Department’s top ranks for the better part of a decade, including former officials like White House homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco, White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler, assistant attorney general Leslie Caldwell, and acting assistant attorney general Matthew Friedrich.)
Then Mueller added Michael Dreeben, who has worked for years in the Justice Department’s solicitor general’s office, which argues the government’s cases before the Supreme Court. “Dreeben is 1 of the top legal & appellate minds at DOJ in modern times,” tweeted Preet Bharara, the former top Manhattan federal prosecutor. Walter Dellinger, an accomplished law professor at Duke and former acting solicitor general, went one step further, telling The Washington Post, “Michael is the most brilliant and most knowledgeable federal criminal lawyer in America—period.” Writing on the Lawfare blog, Paul Rosenzweig recalled watching Deeban argue a Supreme Court case—one of more than a hundred he’s done—without a single note, and also concluded, “He is quite possibly the best criminal appellate lawyer in America (at least on the government’s side). That Mueller has sought his assistance attests both to the seriousness of his effort and the depth of the intellectual bench he is building.”
Also, while the Special Counsel’s office has yet to make any formal announcements about Mueller’s team, it appears he has recruited an experienced Justice Department trial attorney, Lisa Page, a little-known figure outside the halls of Main Justice but one whose résumé boasts intriguing hints about where Mueller’s Russia investigation might lead. Page has deep experience with money laundering and organized crime cases, including investigations where she’s partnered with an FBI task force in Budapest, Hungary, that focuses on eastern European organized crime. That Budapest task force helped put together the still-unfolding money laundering case against Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, a one-time business partner of Manafort.
But despite the other more high-profile names, it’s the career of Zebley, a dogged FBI agent turned prosecutor turned confidant, that perhaps best points to how Mueller intends to run his new investigation: With absolute tenacity and strong central leadership from Mueller himself. It’s a team that’s not just a paper office tiger but one with deep experience investigating crime around the world.
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Now, though, Zebley and Mueller—as well as Quarles and the rest of the investigators—will face perhaps their biggest challenge yet, one that will return Zebley to his element as a tireless investigator, pursuing the Russia investigation with all the patience and doggedness of his years-long hunt for al Qaeda suspects across the globe.
While Wired recounts the storied career of Aaron Zebley, the most recent hire of Lisa Page is intriguing to me.
There is a long-standing FBI investigation into Paul Manafort and money laundering of Russian oligarch money through banks like the Bank of Cyprus. Paul Manafort used Wilbur Ross’ Bank of Cyprus to handle all his illicit Russian funding needs.
There is also Deutsche Bank, which the FBI has pursued for money laundering of Russian oligarch money, and is the only bank that will lend the Trump organization money after a series of bankruptcies. Bank that lent $300m to Trump linked to Russian money laundering scam. And, of course, Trump’s Businesses Have A History Of Money-Laundering Charges.
David Cay Johnston, who has documented Trump’s financial history for years, has written that “State court papers identify [Trump] as the person who authorized an alleged quarter-billion tax fraud involving Trump SoHo hotel profits through a reorganization involving an Icelandic bank and a Russian oligarch. 14 questions for Mr. Trump to answer in Monday’s big debate.
And now Trump’s princeling son-in-law, Jared Kushner is also under investigation. Jared Kushner’s finances and business dealings are now a focus of the Trump-Russia investigation:
The business dealings of Jared Kushner have become a focus in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to a Washington Post report Thursday night.
Kushner, the adviser and son-in-law of President Donald Trump, met separately with the Russian ambassador to the US and a Russian businessman in December — interactions that were already under scrutiny as part of the FBI probe.
Sources informed The Post of the financial focus of the investigation.
During the meeting at Trump Tower with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, Kushner reportedly floated the possibility of establishing a back-channel line of communication between the Trump transition team and Russia.
The White House has said that Kushner’s subsequent meeting with Sergey Gorkov, CEO of Russia’s state-owned Vnesheconombank, was unrelated to business matters. But the FBI is looking into whether Gorkov suggested to Kushner that Russian banks could finance the business ventures of Trump’s associates if US sanctions were lifted or relaxed.
Kushner attorney Jamie Gorelick pushed back on the report in a statement Thursday evening.
“We do not know what this report refers to,” Gorelick said. “It would be standard practice for the Special Counsel to examine financial records to look for anything related to Russia. Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about Russia-related matters. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”
The development marks another expansion of the FBI probe, whose scope had previously been limited to uncovering whether Trump’s campaign colluded with the Kremlin during the 2016 election. The Post reported on Wednesday that Mueller was investigating Trump to prove whether the president attempted to obstruct justice.
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According to Thursday’s Post report, investigators have also been looking into the financial dealings of other Trump associates, including former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and former foreign-policy adviser Carter Page.
It looks like Lisa Page is going to need some assistants to help her track all that money laundering of Russian oligarch money. “Follow the money.”