Leroy N. Soetoro
2018-03-13 20:34:54 UTC
Special counsel Robert Mueller and his prosecutors arent talking to the
media, but still the leaks keep coming.
In the past two weeks, anonymously sourced news reports have said the top
federal Russia investigator is preparing to indict Russians for hacking
Democratic emails in 2016; focusing on why one of President Donald Trumps
longtime lawyers was in talks about a Moscow real estate deal during the
campaign; asking questions about Trump son-in-law, Jared Kushners
business dealings; and probing whether the United Arab Emirates improperly
sought to influence Trump White House policy.
Through it all, Mueller has said nothing in public so far speaking only
with indictments, like last months charges against Russian nationals
accused of election interference, that had not been foreshadowed in the
Thats a textbook stance for a prosecutor who must avoid tipping off
potential targets or wrongly incriminating people. But the former FBI
directors no-comment policy has also created an powerful information
vacuum, one being filled by witnesses, lawyers and others who have caught
glimpses of his advancing probe, and who feed the media selective details
that serve their personal agendas but which may or may not accurately
reflect Muellers main avenues of inquiry.
"What makes leaks and false leads so pernicious is that those doing them
know a professional and ethical prosecutor cannot and will not be able to
correct the record each and every time, said Kushners attorney, Abbe
Lowell, who insists that recent leaks have unfairly suggested that Mueller
is closing in on his client.
That leaves those with improper motives and who are often violating the
law or rules governing investigations the freedom to do the mischief
they intend, Lowell added.
Such complaints serve Lowells own purposes, of course, and Kushner may
well face serious legal jeopardy. But it is impossible to tell from
reports alleging that Mueller is pursuing a certain avenue of inquiry,
like Kushners finances, whether he is vigorously closing in on a target
or simply running down every lead.
Legal experts said Mueller likely finds the deluge of leaks irksome, but
also an inevitable part of his job.
Im sure that the special counsels office is not pleased to see matters
that are relevant to their investigation spinning out of control in the
press, said Melinda Haag, a former federal prosecutor who worked with
Mueller when he was a U.S. attorney in the late 1990s. But Im guessing
they dont view it as their job to try to manage that.
Mueller has shown hes determined to avoid leaks on his own. High-profile
visitors are whisked into the special counsels Washington headquarters
from a heavily guarded underground garage, out of sight of the TV cameras
camped out on the sidewalks below. Before being dismissed, witnesses are
admonished not to talk about their visits.
So far, Mueller has only spoken to the public through court documents
bearing his signature and those of his deputy prosecutors. A motion filed
last summer to keep sealed the charges against former Trump campaign
adviser George Papadopoulous explained the reasoning. Public disclosure
may alert other subjects to the direction and status of the
investigation, Mueller prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky wrote, and prompt them
to destroy or conceal incriminating evidence.
Several of the attorneys representing clients mired in the Russia probe
told POLITICO they appreciate Muellers no-comment policy.
Mueller is doing it the right way, said one lawyer. The most important
thing hes trying to do is create trust and trust that people who give him
information know that it is not going to be leaked.
Lowell argued that the media abets sources who take advantage of the
special counsels refusal to issue even simple confirmations or denials.
Unfortunately, the media are all too willing partners in this arrangement
often encouraging this conduct and providing cover to these leakers by
giving them attributions that make it impossible for there to be
accountability, Lowell said.
Stephen Ryan, the personal attorney for Trumps longtime lawyer, Michael
Cohen, took issue this week with the media coverage surrounding his
client. A Tuesday Washington Post story said the special counsel is
examining Cohens role in a proposed Trump Tower Moscow project and in a
January 2017 effort to deliver a Ukrainian lawmakers Ukraine-Russia peace
plan to the incoming Trump administration.
Ryan insists that Cohen faces no specific legal jeopardy from Mueller.
Unsourced innuendo like this succeeds only because the leakers know the
special counsel will not respond to set the record straight, he said.
Theres little Mueller can do to stymie leaks about his methods. Regular
press briefings are a nonstarter, veteran law enforcement officials say,
and providing statements on a case-by-case basis is an imperfect solution.
If Muellers office were to deny even one story, failure to refute others
could be interpreted as tacit confirmation.
Veteran journalist Steven Brill, who in 1998 notched the first on-the-
record interview with independent counsel Kenneth Starr more than four
years into his investigation of President Bill Clinton, said Mueller is
doing a service to everyone involved by not speaking to reporters or by
leaking information in other ways. (Starr controversially admitted to
Brill that hed been giving background details to the media. Its
impossible to rule out that Mueller has had similar contact with
reporters, but there is no evidence of it and longtime associates call it
Because hes stayed out of the press and hasnt tried to defend himself,
he comes off as more credible, Brill said. Muellers approach also
benefits the investigations trajectory.
The power of Muellers work is that everything he does is a complete
surprise, he said. Therefore it has more impact on the people hes
trying to scare or maybe trying to impress into responding to him.
Mueller also knows he cant control witnesses once they leave his office.
That was evident in the Monday spectacle of former Trump political adviser
Sam Nunberg, who openly discussed his interactions with Muellers team
even sharing a copy of a recent subpoena for his communications with the
president and other inner-circle Trump aides. It was the most candid
discussion to date by any witness of his or her dealings with Muellers
In light of Nunbergs behavior, Haag said the special counsel and his
prosecutors are likely reassessing their interactions with future
They might think long and hard about each potential interview and decide
what the chances are of this person doing what Mr. Nunberg has done and
decide whether the interview is important enough to take that risk, she
Making sure each witness has a lawyer who can advise against leaking
helps, she said. But even there, Nunberg demonstrated on Monday that may
not matter. The former Trump aide repeatedly told reporters that he was
speaking publicly without giving his attorney any warning he would speak
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