President Donald Trump’s White House and personal lawyers scrambled Saturday to learn where the knife might fall in the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, triggering a guessing game among aides after days of trying to turn attention away from allegations of collusion with Russia during the election.
Attorneys involved in the case said their cellphones have been ringing nonstop as they connected with each other, and with reporters, trying to gather more concrete details after a CNN report Friday night that a federal grand jury had approved the first charges in the Russia investigation.
While the report did not cite names, attorneys close to the case said they were discussing whether the indictment was for two known Mueller targets: former campaign chairman Paul Manafort or former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Several attorneys who said they were in touch with the Manafort and Flynn lawyers said they had not been notified of any matter related to an indictment — which is customary in a white-collar criminal investigation — leading them to believe it wasn’t either of those two former high-ranking Trump aides. An attorney for Manafort did not respond to a request for comment. Michael Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, declined to comment.
The attorneys close to the case also said they wouldn’t be surprised if the charges were targeting Flynn or Manafort family members, or a longtime accountant or lawyer.
Andrew Weissmann, one of Mueller’s top attorneys and a frequent presence over the last month at the grand jury proceedings in Washington, including on Friday, was known to use that tactic to gain advantage when attempting to prosecute Enron executives in the mid-2000s. “That moves you toward making a deal when the son or a wife is indicted,” said a white-collar attorney familiar with the Mueller probe.
For example, an indictment of Flynn’s son, who worked for his father’s lobbying firm, could put pressure on Flynn to begin to cooperate with investigators. Flynn and his son have been under scrutiny for their lobbying work on behalf of a Turkish client with ties to the country’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Flynn Jr. also accompanied his father to Moscow in December 2015 for a paid speech, which Putin attended, celebrating the Russian propaganda outlet RT. Michael Flynn did not disclose the payments in his application to renew his security clearance in 2016; the Democratic and GOP leaders of the House Oversight Committee earlier this year said that was likely an illegal omission.