Peter Carr, Mueller spokesman, has announced that Robert Mueller’s prosecutorial team is releasing two prosecutors to return to their previous Justice Department positions, Politico reports. Brandon Van Grack and Kyle Freeny both played important roles in key cases in the special counsel’s probe. Freeny was vital in the Manafort and Gates cases and Van Grack was involved in Manafort and Flynn cases.
Freeny will wrap up her role on the team in October and return to her job at the DOJ’s Criminal Division while Van Grack has already returned to the National Security Division. According to Carr, Van Grack will continue to “represent the office on specific pending matters that were assigned to him during his detail.” Carr also said that Freeny is leaving “because she has concluded her work here”.
The departures, following the announcement in August of Ryan Dickey and Brian Richardson leaving the team, brings the number of prosecutors from 17 to 13, ABC reports. Dickey worked on the indictments of the 12 Russian military hackers and the Russian “troll factory” while Richardson worked on both the van der Zwaan and Mueller cases.
The departures have raised speculation that Mueller is wrapping up his probe but Carr declined to comment whether Mueller will be bringing on new prosecutors to replace the departing ones.
Barbara McQuade, a former Obama-era U.S. attorney and law professor at the University of Michigan who has closely tracked Mueller’s work, said that while the staffers could theoretically be replaced, such a move would be unlikely “because knowledge and momentum would be lost by replacing prosecutors at this stage.”Politico
Former FBI director James Comey has recently said that it looks like Mueller is “in the fourth quarter” and many speculate along with him, including President Trump’s lawyers.
Others disagree, pointing out to ABC that the departing prosecutors’ specific expertise is no longer needed with cases wrapping up.
Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, said Mueller likely no longer needs full-time lawyers with expertise in money laundering – a central peg in the recently concluded prosecution of Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort— or in certain aspects of cybercrime that were part of the case against an alleged Russian government hacking operation.
“These departures were not unexpected and simply reflect the evolving nature of this investigation,” Mintz said. “Mueller is narrowing his focus and he no longer needs some areas of expertise.”
Matthew Olsen, former National Counterterrorism Center director and an ABC News contributor, agreed, calling the departures “a sign that Mueller’s investigation is moving into a different stage where those particular areas of expertise are effectively not needed.”ABC
After a series of high profile cases ending in indictments, convictions, and plea deals, Mueller’s probe seems to be entering a new phase.
Manafort pleaded guilty after being found guilty on eight charges in Virginia and Papadopoulos has been sentenced to 14 days. Van der Zwaan has served his 30 days in jail. But major investigative avenues are still being pursued.
Roger Stone and associates are under investigation for their role in colluding with Russia during the 2016 presidential election, Michael Cohen’s case with the SDNY is ongoing, and Mueller is still looking at any possibly coordination the Trump campaign had with Russia. In addition, Mueller is still in negotiations with President Trump’s lawyers regarding the president being interviewed.
Mueller’s investigation has resulted in 6 guilty pleas, four from Trump campaign officials, and a conviction of Trump’s former campaign manager. One sentence has been served, one is pending, and Flynn’s sentencing is upcoming. Gates, Manafort, and Cohen are all cooperating with the special counsel’s office.