The biggest reason James Comey’s is likely to disappoint when he appears before the Senate Intelligence Committee is not because he doesn’t have a good story to tell, but because he’s concerned about getting in the way of the investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. It’s almost certain that Mueller and Comey have met to discuss the limits of what the former FBI director can say on Thursday. Comey’s silences may help to define the edges of Mueller’s investigation, but there is other information coming out that’s giving an even better glimpse into the special counsel’s thinking.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is assembling a prosecution team with decades of experience going after everything from Watergate to the Mafia to Enron as he digs in for a lengthy probe into possible collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
The diversity of Mueller’s hires reinforces early signs that the investigation is going to be broader than some expected. So far, indications are that Mueller has his eyes on Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort’s pro-Kremlin activities, former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s work as an unregistered foreign agent, as well as poking around Trump’s actions when it comes to Comey’s dismissal. There have also been indications that Mueller will look into business interests of Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, a prospect that may be the most daunting to the White House.
Mueller’s biggest hire to date was [Andrew] Weissmann, who is taking a leave from his current post leading the Justice Department’s criminal fraud section. The two men have a long history together at the FBI, where Weissmann served as both the bureau’s general counsel from 2011 to 2013 and as Mueller’s special counsel in 2005.
Weissmann was instrumental in going after Enron CEO Ken Lay and also in breaking up New York crime families. His position at the heart of Mueller’s team suggests what kind of case this is going to be.
Former Obama DOJ spokeswoman Emily Pierce called Weissmann “an inspired choice” to help Mueller lead the Russia probe.
“As a fraud and foreign bribery expert, he knows how to follow the money. Who knows what they will find, but if there is something to be found, he will find it,” she said.
Like most special counsels, Mueller can be expected to conduct his investigation in relative silence. There will be no public hearings and likely few, if any, updates on his progress. Instead, at some point weeks or months down the line, either the indictments will start to flow … or they won’t. If Mueller reaches a conclusion that charges aren’t warranted, the evidence developed in the investigation may never be brought forward.
But in the meantime, looking at how Mueller staffs his remaining positions could be the best clue to where his attention has turned. Will he bring in experts on money laundering? Real estate fraud? Investigators with a military background?
How those seats get filled could leave some people at the White House breathing a sigh of relief, and others shaking in their Guccis.