The Russian Connection: Mueller Expands Staff

Special Counsel Robert Mulleur’s hires tell us he is concentrating on money laundering, financial fraud and Russian organized crime, in other words all of Trump’s favorite hobbies.

What does Robert Mueller’s team tell us about the Russia investigation?
By Julian Borger, The Guardian

Even before the special counsel’s inquiry has begun in earnest into links between the Trump campaign and Moscow, the team Robert Mueller is building provides clues about which way the investigation is heading.

One is a veteran of the Watergate investigation, and Donald Trump – like Richard Nixon – was reported on Wednesday to now be under investigation for obstruction of justice. Other team members have specialities that could point toward where Mueller is looking after taking over control of the investigation from the FBI: money laundering, financial fraud and Russian organised crime. [..]

One of the more recent recruits is reported to be Lisa Page, a justice department trial attorney with a substantial record of investigating Russian and former Soviet organised crime and in particular its reputed godfather, Semion Mogilevich.

Mogilevich associates are reported to have owned condos in Trump Tower in New York, and the father of Trump’s business partner in the Trump Soho hotel, Felix Sater, was a Mogilevich lieutenant.

Vladimir Putin is known to use oligarchs and organised crime bosses as instruments of Kremlin influence abroad. [..]

Another sign that the Mueller team will take a “follow the money” approach is the recruitment of Andrew Weissmann, an organised crime expert who oversaw lengthy cases in the US district court for the eastern district of New York focused on the city’s mafia families and their infiltration of Wall Street.

Weissmann formerly led the FBI’s fraud unit and the taskforce that unpicked the complex financial dealings of Enron, after the giant energy corporation collapsed in December 2001. It was the most complex white collar crime investigation in FBI history and led to the convictions of the firm’s top management. [..]

Another legal heavyweight Mueller has recruited is Michael Dreeben, a former deputy solicitor general who has argued more than 100 cases before the US supreme court. Rosenzweig described him on the Lawfare blog as “quite possibly the best criminal appellate lawyer in America” and said he represented even worse news for Trump last week than Comey’s damning testimony.

Mueller has brought with him three members of his law firm, WilmerHale, who have justice department and law enforcement backgrounds. One of them is James Quarles, who was part of the Watergate taskforce and focus on irregularities in GOP campaign finance.

Another WilmerHale lawyer is a former FBI agent, Aaron Zebley, a cybersecurity specialist who, according to Wired magazine, was part of the bureau’s I-49 counter-terrorism unit, which helped track down the bombers who blew up the US embassies in east Africa in 1998. He worked as a counsel at the justice department’s national security division before following Mueller to WilmerHale.

The third member of the WilmerHale trio is Jeannie Rhee, who was deputy assistant attorney general in the Obama administration and is an expert on the intersection of criminal law and government.

According to the National Law Journal (article is behind a paywall but h/t to Raw Story), Counsel Mueller has also added Elizabeth Prelogar, a former Supreme Court law clerk for Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, who is fluent in Russian to assist Mr. Dreeban.

In the above Guardian article, once again Felix Sater‘s name pops up, he of the margarita glass stabbing fame, as lawyers seek to unseal documents on his criminal past for evidence of fraud. From Newsweek via Raw Story:

The sealed documents are from a federal case against Felix Sater, who Trump reportedly tapped as a senior advisor for his real-estate business in the 2000s even after Sater’s earlier role in a Mafia-linked stock scheme became public.

“A fellow named Donald Trump is now president and he had a business associate named [Sater.] The public needs to know the length of their relationship and the nature of the relationship and what kind of person [Sater] is,” attorney Richard Lerner said in Brooklyn federal court Monday afternoon. “By allowing this regime of secrecy to continue, it’s facilitating what may have been fraud by President Trump.”

It was unclear from the court proceeding what acts by Trump could possibly be construed as criminal. But after court ended, Lerner told Newsweek that if Trump knowingly did real estate with a convicted felon, that could constitute financial fraud. [..]

Sater served a year in prison in 1993 for stabbing a man in the face with a broken glass. Five years later, he pleaded guilty to taking part in a $40 million Mafia stock fraud scheme and avoided prison by working as a confidential informant for the FBI, The Los Angeles Times reported. While he was still reportedly working for the feds, Sater spent years trying to line up deals for Trump’s real estate empire around the world beginning in 2003. Trump backed away from Sater when the latter’s criminal past became public in 2007. But about three years later, the real estate mogul started working with him again, according to the Associated Press.

Also in the spotlight again and making headaches for The Donald are former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former NatSec advisor Lt. General Michael Flynn.

At height of Russia tensions, Trump campaign chairman Manafort met with business associate from Ukraine
By Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger and Rachel Weiner

In August, as tension mounted over Russia’s role in the U.S. presidential race, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, sat down to dinner with a business associate from Ukraine who once served in the Russian army.

Konstantin Kilimnik, who learned English at a military school that some experts consider a training ground for Russian spies, had helped run the Ukraine office for Manafort’s international political consulting practice for 10 years.

At the Grand Havana Room, one of New York City’s most exclusive cigar bars, the longtime acquaintances “talked about bills unpaid by our clients, about [the] overall situation in Ukraine . . . and about the current news,” including the presidential campaign, according to a statement provided by Kilimnik, offering his most detailed account of his interactions with the former Trump adviser. [..]

Kilimnik is of interest to investigators on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is examining possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia, said a person familiar with the inquiry.

Kilimnik’s name also appeared this spring in a previously undisclosed subpoena sought by federal prosecutors looking for information “concerning contracts for work . . . communication or other records of correspondence” related to about two dozen people and businesses that appeared to be connected to Manafort or his wife, including some who worked with Manafort in Kiev.

The subpoena was issued by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia, where, until recently, Manafort’s business was headquartered. The subpoena did not specify whether it was related to the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. election or a separate inquiry into Manafort’s business activities. Investigators in the Eastern District of Virginia have been assisting with the Russia investigation. [..]

Federal investigators have shown an interest in Manafort on several fronts beyond his work on behalf of Trump.

Subpoenas in New York have sought information about Manafort’s real estate loans, according to NBC News. Justice Department officials also are exploring whether Manafort should have more fully disclosed his work for foreign political parties, as required by federal law.

Former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III has been appointed special counsel to oversee the Russia inquiry, and people familiar with his work said his office has now taken over investigations of Manafort’s conduct unrelated directly to the Russia probe.

A spokesman for the Eastern District of Virginia declined to discuss the subpoena there. A spokesman for Mueller also declined to comment.

Last night, Tom Hamburger, reporter for The Washington Post, talked with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow about a subpoena issued by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia targeting Paul Manafort and his Ukraine business and associates.

Michael Flynn’s dabbling in consulting has added to his legal and political migraine. It appears there more trips he failed to disclose on his application for his security clearance. From ABC News:

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn made an unreported trip to the Middle East in 2015 to work on a U.S.-Russian venture in Saudi Arabia before he joined the Trump campaign, possibly having multiple contacts with Saudi officials that he failed to disclose when seeking renewal of his security clearances, according to Democrats who are seeking detailed records of Flynn’s travels.

“Most troubling of all, we have no record of Gen. Flynn identifying on his security clearance renewal application – or during his interview with security clearance investigators – even a single foreign government he had contact with,” wrote Reps. Elijah Cummings and Eliot Engel, the ranking members of the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees, in a letter published on Monday. [..]

The Democrats have demanded documents related to all of Flynn’s work on the Saudi nuclear venture, which involved not only a Russian-U.S. effort to construct the nuclear reactors but also a plan to have Arab countries repay the Russians with the purchase of “Russian military hardware,” the letter says, citing internal documents from companies involved in trying to solidify the deal.

This investigation is not going away no matter who Donald trump fires and it is getting even larger in scope. And despite all Trump’s protestations and those of his lawyer, right wing grifter Jay Sekulow, Trump is under investigation for his involvement in this. After all, it was his campaign and IS his administration.