Robert Mueller’s former law firm’s client list could pose problems for his appointment
Politicians on both sides of the aisle, at least publicly, are celebrating the appointment of the artist formerly known as FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counselor to head up the Justice Department’s investigation into what role, if any, Donald Trump might have had in Russia’s interference with the presidential election. But Mueller’s decision to leave his job at WilmerHale, the law firm he has worked at since 2014, could actually be a little problematic, as the firm’s client list includes several key people who are linked to Team Trump.
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Trump’s daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, are all clients of WilmerHale, the firm Mueller is leaving to assume the position of special prosecutor overseeing the high-profile Russia election probe.
One prominent expert on government ethics rules said Wednesday that lawyers entering federal service would normally be required to recuse themselves from decisions regarding individuals who were represented by the new official’s former firm.
“It’s a possible wrinkle in all off this,” said Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor and former White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush. “Usually, there would be a one-year cooling off period.”
Fortunately, there’s a way around this. Painter says that the final decision as to whether Mueller can proceed with his appointment lies with ethics officials within the Justice Department, and that he himself, “would support them using that authority. It doesn’t really make sense for him to oversee one part of the investigation and recuse from others… The real risk here is interference by the White House or by [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions’ appointees, not some issue involving WilmerHale.”
We can only hope that the Justice Department’s lawyers are as logical.