By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: May 22, 2017
Robert Mueller, the former FBI Director who has been appointed as Special Counsel to oversee the investigation of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 Presidential election may find out quickly that there is an obstacle course of roadblocks preventing him from doing his job. (Mueller served from September 4, 2001 to September 4, 2013 as FBI Director, under both Presidents George W. Bush and Obama. He is widely respected by both Congressional Democrats and Republicans in Washington.)
On January 28, President Trump quietly and with little fanfare signed an Executive Order that bars an Executive Branch employee from participating “in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.”
This concept is further defined in the Executive Order to mean “matters in which the appointee’s former employer or a former client is a party or represents a party.”
Since 2014, Mueller has worked for the sprawling international law firm, WilmerHale. With approximately 1,000 lawyers working in twelve major cities around the globe, its conflicts are infinite as well as specific.
According to Reuters’ wire service on Friday, the Trump administration is already looking at this ethics rule “to undermine the special counsel investigation into ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russia, two people familiar with White House thinking said on Friday.”
Finding conflicted client relationships at WilmerHale won’t be hard. Politico reported in March that a partner at WilmerHale, Jamie Gorelick, represents Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner. According to the report, Gorelick also represented former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson in the confirmation process to become Secretary of State under Trump. Adding to the intrigue, Gorelick had been active in Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign for President.
Kushner has been heavily rumored to be of interest to the investigation over his meeting last December with an executive of a Russian state-owned bank. In March, American Lawyer reported that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign adviser who is a subject of the investigation, was being represented by a top WilmerHale partner, Reginald Brown, chairman of the firm’s financial institutions group who also heads up the firm’s congressional investigations practice.
Wall Street On Parade has found yet two more potential conflicts at WilmerHale. According to this roster at the corporate law firm, Steptoe & Johnson, Benjamin Powell, a partner at WilmerHale, served on the Trump transition team for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Powell’s profile at WilmerHale states that he is “widely recognized as one of the country’s top authorities on handling cybersecurity, data breach and related investigation matters.” On January 6, 2017, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified report to the public with the following findings:
“We assess with high confidence that Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.
“Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards. DHS [Department of Homeland Security] assesses that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.”
According to the roster, another WilmerHale partner, Matthew Martens, served on the Trump transition team for the Securities and Exchange Commission. Martens’ profile at WilmerHale indicates that he “is an experienced litigator of complex, high-stakes criminal and civil matters.”
If all of this weren’t enough to raise questions about an unimpeded investigation moving smoothly forward under Mueller, Reuters noted in its Friday article that while the Justice Department might grant a waiver for the WilmerHale conflicts, the White House could potentially use the rule to “create doubt about Mueller’s ability to do his job fairly” during “press conference and public statements” as well as to potentially launch a court challenge of any negative findings by Mueller.
Just what the U.S. taxpayer doesn’t need is an open-ended investigation that results in an open-ended court challenge. All of this raises the question as to why a Special Counsel from a less conflicted law firm wasn’t thoroughly vetted before the appointment was announced to the public.
Editor’s Note: Wall Street On Parade has previously written about the public service performed by WikiLeaks in releasing emails that alerted the public to the manner in which the serially charged mega Wall Street bank, Citigroup, was simultaneously receiving massive Federal government bailouts while one of its executives was staffing up the first term of the Obama administration.
The WilmerHale attorney, Matthew Martens, is not related to Pam or Russ Martens, as far as we are aware.