Much has been written about the prosecutorial prowess of Robert Mueller’s team assembled to investigate allegations of Russia’s involvement in the Trump campaign. Little has been said of the danger of prosecutorial overreach and the true history of Mueller’s lead prosecutor.
What was supposed to have been a search for Russia’s cyberspace intrusions into our electoral politics has morphed into a malevolent mission targeting friends, family and colleagues of the president. The Mueller investigation has become an all-out assault to find crimes to pin on them — and it won’t matter if there are no crimes to be found. This team can make some.
Many Americans despise President Trump and anyone associated with him. Yet turning our system of justice into a political weapon is a danger we must guard against.
Think back to April 1, 1940, and a world awash in turmoil, hate and fear. Revered Attorney General Robert H. Jackson assembled the United States attorneys. In remarks enshrined in the hearts of all good prosecutors, he said, “the citizen’s safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility.”
Yet Mueller tapped a different sort of prosecutor to lead his investigation — his long-time friend and former counsel, Andrew Weissmann. He is not just a “tough” prosecutor. Time after time, courts have reversed Weissmann’s most touted “victories” for his tactics. This is hardly the stuff of a hero in the law.
Weissmann, as deputy and later director of the Enron Task Force, destroyed the venerable accounting firm of Arthur Andersen LLP and its 85,000 jobs worldwide — only to be reversed several years later by a unanimous Supreme Court.
Next, Weissmann creatively criminalized a business transaction between Merrill Lynch and Enron. Four Merrill executives went to prison for as long as a year. Weissmann’s team made sure they did not even get bail pending their appeals, even though the charges Weissmann concocted, like those against Andersen, were literally unprecedented.
Weissmann’s prosecution devastated the lives and families of the Merrill executives, causing enormous defense costs, unimaginable stress and torturous prison time. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the mass of the case.
Weissmann quietly resigned from the Enron Task Force just as the judge in the Enron Broadband prosecution began excoriating Weissmann’s team, and the press began catching on to Weissmann’s modus operandi.
Mueller knows this history. Is this why he tapped Weissmann to target Paul Manafort?
As Attorney General Jackson foretold: “Therein is the most dangerous power of the prosecutor: that he will pick people that he thinks he should get, rather than pick cases that need to be prosecuted.”
Manafort, a Trump associate, is simply a small step in Weissmann’s quest to impugn this presidency or to reverse the results of the 2016 election. Never mind that months of investigation by multiple entities have produced no evidence of “collusion.” Mueller’s rare, predawn raid of Manafort’s home — a fearsome treat usually reserved for mobsters and drug dealers — is textbook Weissmann terrorism. And of course, the details were leaked — another illegal tactic.
Weissmann is intent on indicting Manafort. It won’t matter that Manafort knows the Trump campaign did not collude with the Russians. Weissman will pressure Manafort to say whatever satisfies Weissmann’s perspective. Perjury is only that which differs from Weissmann’s “view” of the “evidence” — not the actual truth.
We all lose from Weissmann’s involvement. First, the truth plays no role in Weissmann’s quest. Second, respect for the rule of law, simple decency and following the facts do not appear in Weissmann’s playbook. Third, and most important, all Americans lose whenever our judicial system becomes a weapon to reward political friends and punish political foes.
It is long past the due date for Mueller to clean up his team — or Weissmann to resign — as a sign that the United States is a nation of laws that are far more important than one Weissmann.
Sidney Powell was a federal prosecutor in three districts under nine U.S. attorneys from both political parties, then in private practice for more than 20 years. She is a past president of the Bar Association of the Fifth Federal Circuit and of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers. A veteran of 500 federal appeals, she published “Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice.”