Saturday, May 20, 2017

White House Looking at Ethics Rule to Weaken Special Investigation

The Trump Administration is exploring whether it can use an obscure Ethics Rule to undermine the Special Counsel investigation into ties between President Trump’s Campaign Team and Russia.

Within hours of Mueller’s appointment on Wednesday, the White House began reviewing the Code of Federal Regulations, which Restricts newly hired Government Lawyers from investigating their prior Law Firm’s Clients for one year after their hiring. An Executive Order signed by Trump in January extended that period to two years.

Mueller’s former Law Firm, WilmerHale, represents Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who met with a Russian Bank Executive in December, and the President’s former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, who is a subject of a Federal Investigation.

Legal Experts said the Ethics Rule can be waived by the Justice Department, which appointed Mueller. Mueller did not represent Kushner or Manafort directly at his former Law Firm.

If the Justice Department did not grant a Waiver, Mueller would be barred from Investigating Kushner or Manafort, and this could greatly diminish the scope of the probe, Experts said.

The Justice Department is already reviewing Mueller’s Background as well as any potential Conflicts of Interest, said Department Spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores.

Even if the Justice Department granted a Waiver, the White House would consider using the Ethics Rule to create doubt about Mueller’s ability to do his job fairly. Administration Legal Advisers have been asked to determine if there is a basis for this. Under this strategy, the Administration would raise the issue in Press Conferences and Public Statements. Moreover, the White House has not ruled out the possibility of using the Rule to Challenge Mueller’s findings in Court, should the Investigation lead to Prosecution. The Administration is now mainly focused on placing a Cloud over Mueller's Reputation for Independence.

Mueller’s former colleagues at WilmerHale, James Quarles and Aaron Zebley, are expected to join his Investigation, according to a spokeswoman for the Law Firm. Neither Quarles nor Zebley represented Kushner or Manafort.

Mueller will depend on the Justice Department for Funding and he reports to Acting AG Rosenstein, who was appointed by Trump. When he announced Mueller’s appointment this week, Rosenstein said Mueller will have “all appropriate resources to conduct a thorough and complete investigation.”

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