As special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation continues closing in on President Donald Trump’s inner circle, White House staffers are reportedly suspicious of their colleagues and fear that some may be secretly recording conversations at the Justice Department’s direction.
Former national security advisor Michael Flynn pled guilty Friday to lying to the FBI. The guilty plea, accompanied by the admission that Flynn is cooperating with the Department of Justice, prompted a renewed sense of suspicion among White House staffers, who fear that Mueller’s team is wiring up current or former colleagues cooperating in exchange for generous plea deals.
“Everyone is paranoid,” a person close to the White House told Politico Monday. “Everyone thinks they’re being recorded.”
This pervasive suspicion within the White House, which began in earnest after information came out that former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos had been cooperating with Mueller since the early summer, was furthered by the text of Flynn’s plea deal.
The 10-page deal references Flynn’s participation in “covert law enforcement activities.”
While asking a cooperating witness to secretly record conversations with coconspirators is a common prosecutorial tactic, the political dynamics of Mueller’s investigation and the resulting scrutiny placed on the probe complicates his efforts.
Mueller is obligated by law to refrain from secretly recording conversations with individuals whom he knows retained an attorney to represent them in matters related to the investigation.
“Mueller is too good a professional and too good a prosecutor to tape represented individuals and he doesn’t want his office or his important mission to be tainted,” White House lawyer Ty Cobb told Politico.
Stephen Binhak, a Miami-based white-collar attorney who served as an associate counsel during the Starr investigation, pointed out that in some cases secretly recording the subject of an investigation can actually make prosecutions more difficult.
“Even if you have the opportunity to speak to a major target, you have to look at the other considerations beyond ‘Can I wire that guy up to go talk to him?'” Binhak said. “In any significant case, you are likely dealing with very smart people. If they sense they are being taped, they can make exculpatory statements that can actually set you back.”
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