‘There are people in jail who have done far less’ than Trump, Mueller prosecutor says at Drew Forum

Andrew Weissmann, lead prosecutor for the Mueller investigation, speaks at the Drew Forum, March 27, 2024. Photo by Marion Filler.
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By Marion Filler

 

Special Counsel Robert Hur, who declined to prosecute President Biden for his handling of classified documents, went too far when he opined about the state of the 81-year-old leader’s memory.

That’s the opinion of the lead prosecutor from the Mueller investigation on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Andrew Weissmann weighed in on this controversy, and on the criminal cases pending against former President Trump, during a wide-ranging talk before a large and welcoming audience at Drew University in Madison on Wednesday.

“Hur did not stay within the bounds of what he should,” Weissman responded to interviewer Carlos Yordan, associate professor of political science at Drew.

“There is a rule in the (Department of Justice), if you are not charging and even if you are charging, your personal views are not relevant. Do not do that. It’s a lack of judgment,” said Weissmann, now a teacher at New York University and legal analyst for NBC/MSNBC.

He also co-hosts the podcast Prosecuting Donald Trump and is co-author of The Trump Indictments: The Historic Charging Documents with Commentary. Weissmann’s recent memoir, Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation made the New York Times best-seller list.

Weissmann agreed that Hur was “totally right” to investigate Biden’s possession of classified material after he left office as vice president; it’s “not a good thing” to have classified documents in a place where they should not be

When Hur found no evidence of willful intent by Biden, he opted against prosecuting the President — and impugned his memory instead.

Hur wrote in his February 2024 report that a jury likely would regard Biden “as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” He suggested Biden could not even remember during questioning when his adult son Beau had died.

Those comments ignited a firestorm on both sides of the political spectrum. The same can be said for the March 2019 Mueller Report.

That two-year investigation stopped short of accusing the 2016 Trump campaign of conspiring with the Russian government — but said the Russians interfered “in sweeping and systematic fashion,” a conclusion that “deserves the attention of every American.”

‘THERE ARE PEOPLE IN JAIL WHO HAVE DONE FAR LESS’

Yordan moved on Wednesday to the four pending criminal cases against Trump, from indictments totaling 91 total counts that allege:

  • Interference with the peaceful transfer of power in an election on January 6, 2021.
  • Election interference in Georgia, where Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was pressed by Trump “to find 11,780 votes” to subvert election results.
  • Obstruction, unlawful retention of national defense information, and destruction of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
  • Falsifying business records to cover up hush money payments to former adult film star Stormy Daniels.

All are “no-brainers,” except possibly for the New York hush money case, said Weissmann, who directed the Enron Task Force, and was chief of the federal division that prosecuted members of New York’s Colombo, Gambino and Genovese crime families in New York.

Prosecuting a former President is unprecedented in America, he acknowledged.

“A legitimate question that can be asked in an American trial for any major politician is, if you took their name away, would you be litigating this case?

“If you look at the first three indictments you referenced and the documentation involved, then I think it’s a no-brainer, because there is a clear record of what the D.O.J. has done. This would be prosecuted every day of the week … There are people in jail who have done far less.”

The New York hush money case is more debatable, Weissmann suggested, because it is connected to a broader case regarding fraudulent tax and business records.

Asked if a gag order in the hush money case infringes on Trump’s rights, Weissmann’s response, an emphatic “No!,” was greeted by loud applause.

“You can run for President and not threaten a judge or their family,” Weissmann said, referring to death threats and a barrage of “swatting” calls. (These are false alarms to police requesting SWAT teams to appear at homes of judges and prosecutors.)

Carlos Yordan, associate professor of political science at Drew University, left, interviewed Andrew Weissmann, lead prosecutor for the Mueller investigation, at the Drew Forum, March 27, 2024. Photo by Marion Filler.

The gag order has no restriction on Trump speaking about his platform and policies, observed Weissmann. “It’s a remarkable sign of where we are,” he said of the situation.

Earlier in the week, a New York appeals court lowered Trump’s bond in a civil fraud case from $454 million to $175 million.

“I have no idea why they did it,” Weissman told the crowd at the Drew Forum, a series that has presented such speakers as Biden, Henry Kissinger, Liz Cheney and Doris Kearns Goodwin.

“The appellate court doesn’t have to explain itself,” he said. “It leaves you very much thinking if there are two or maybe even three systems of justice here? Black, White or Trump?”

Wiessmann was especially critical of the Supreme Court’s scheduling on the question of whether Trump is immune from criminal charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

“It took two months of briefing before they agreed to decide on the very last day of their term this year if they would take the case,” he said. We are losing faith in our institutions, he said, and if a decision is postponed and delayed until after the election, the case goes away. “They are clearly putting their thumb on the scale.”

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, the federal judge presiding over Trump’s election subversion case in Washington DC, has refused to dismiss those charges, saying the former president does not enjoy absolute immunity for his words and actions after the November 2020 election.

Chutkan’s decision has been appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court. If she is upheld, Weissmann said, “I’m sure Chutkan will send Donald Trump to jail.”

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