President Trump’s advisers and defenders in trying to undermine former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s alleged pre-election “collusion” with Vladimir Putin’s Russia are pointing out that Mr. Mueller and another former FBI director, James Comey, are longtime buddies. Moreover, many members of the Mueller team are Democratic contributors, they say, and that within days of being appointed special counsel to head the investigation, Mr. Mueller began expanding its scope.
Valid as these points may be, none of them are likely to derail or seriously weaken what looks more and more to be morphing into an anti-Trump jihad and should not be the White House’s major concern. The real problem facing Trumpworld came over the weekend in reports that prosecutors are searching for unrelated charges they might use to indict former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Mr. Mueller’s team includes mad dog prosecutors with a record of crossing ethical lines in their attempt to “get” whoever they go after. Chief among these is Mr. Mueller’s friend and former FBI general counsel during his time there, Andrew Weissmann. Mr. Weissmann, according to press reports following his appointment earlier this summer, is best known for his skill at “turning” witnesses — getting friends, business associates and others to testify against those in his sights.
Before being appointed head of the Fraud Section at the Department of Justice during the Obama years, Mr. Weissmann had been part of a task force that targeted organized crime figures in New York. He was also head prosecutor in the Enron investigation, as well as the man who destroyed Arthur Andersen LLP, putting the firm’s 85,000 employees out of work. It turns out that many of those indicted, convicted or forced to plead guilty as a result of Mr. Weissmann’s no-holds-barred approach to his job had their sentences reversed or their cases tossed out by appeals courts that didn’t share his disdain for due process.
In the Enron case earlier, he and his fellow prosecutors withheld or, as the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put it, “suppressed” exculpatory evidence from defense lawyers. What’s more, they put on witnesses to testify to a version of their narrative that the withheld evidence didn’t support, and verbally threatened to indict many witnesses who might have disagreed with them on the stand.
Mr. Weissmann’s critics have detailed an approach to the law that isn’t taught in law school. They picture him as a ruthless prosecutor who routinely bullies opposition witnesses and lawyers in and out of court, often threatening to indict those who would testify contrary to his view of reality and seeking any edge to win. In one case, he had the wife of a potential witness he sought to “turn” indicted on unrelated charges so he could dangle the wife’s freedom before the man to get him to testify against others. It worked, but one wonders how often in such circumstances he was, in essence, encouraging perjury from those he was threatening lest they oppose his case.
Mr. Weissmann’s habitual overreach was minutely documented in a 2004 book authored by Sidney Powell, a 10-year veteran of the Justice Department. Ms. Powell, who handled more than 500 appeals cases for the department, was appalled by what went on and especially by Mr. Weissmann’s methods. He was a central figure in her “Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption at the Department of Justice.”
Given this background, it should come as no surprise that Mr. Mueller’s lawyers are combing through former Trump manager Paul Manafort’s business history and records looking for something on which to base an indictment that might be used to “turn” him against the president of the United States. They haven’t found anything thus far, but they’ll keep looking until they do. Then they can trade a pass on what they find in exchange for testimony from Mr. Manafort that will please them and further the effort to “get” their man. One Mueller “insider” told a Reuters’ reporter late last week that finding a way to indict Mr. Manafort is “seen as critical in getting his full cooperation.” It’s worked before and might work again.
Mr. Manafort has already volunteered to testify, but to control that testimony, Mr. Mueller and his crack team of legal overreachers need an edge and, given the nature of our laws, are likely to find one. Mr. Manafort’s lawyers should remember the words of Robert Jackson who, after being appointed U.S. attorney general by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Jackson called Justice Department lawyers together and asked if they realized that they had the power to investigate and indict anyone they wanted to go after. He then reminded them that the power they had was to be used to advance rather than abuse the cause of justice.
One can only wonder if the members of the Mueller team have a very different view of their mission.
• David A. Keene is editor at large at The Washington Times.
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