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Moot courts, job interviews and potluck parties: A look inside Mueller’s office

Over 60 pages of calenders reveal life inside special counsel Robert Mueller’s office. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

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The Weissmann calendar entries show a mix of the mundane with the legally complex.

Newly disclosed documents give fresh hints of what daily life was like inside special counsel Robert Mueller’s office during much of the nearly two years his investigators were probing connections between President Donald Trump’s campaign in Russia.

About 15 months of calendars for Mueller’s top deputy Andrew Weissmann show the investigative team meeting to hammering out difficult legal issues relating to international treaties and legal ethics. Other entries show that Mueller’s crew engaged in prep sessions known as “moot courts” before major legal arguments, even in district court.

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And still others show the more mundane activities common in any office, like parties to mark birthdays, holidays and departures from the staff. The conference rooms in Mueller’s nondescript southwest Washington office appear to have been named for tree species, such as Sequoia, Maple and Elm.

The 66 pages of calendars were obtained last week by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The group made them public Tuesday.

The schedules were heavily redacted on privacy grounds and in order to protect ongoing investigations. However, not all names were deleted from the records.

Donald Trump Jr.

The calendars show numerous meetings for “Team Manafort,” later abbreviated as “Team M,” as Mueller’s office moved to indict the former Trump campaign manager and prepared for a trial that took place in federal court in Alexandria, Va., last year — and another in Washington, D.C., that was canceled after Manafort cut a plea deal.

Mueller’s office appears to have taken key hearings in the Mueller cases quite seriously, arranging moot court sessions before these major showdowns.
An entry on May 2 shows a one-hour meeting labeled: “Manafort EDVa Scope moot court for MRD (Maple).”

The shorthand appears to signify a prep session for Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben, who helped Mueller office’s on various matters, including arguments two days later in Alexandria where U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III questioned the connection between the tax and bank fraud charges against Manafort and Mueller’s mandate to probe Russian influence on the Trump campaign in 2016.

Ellis made clear his doubts about the wisdom of the special counsel appointment, though he ultimately upheld the prosecutor’s authority.

Similar moot court sessions were listed for issues related to alleged leaks and to Manafort’s motions to dismiss the charges against him, as well as for opening arguments in the Virginia case.

The early records show Weissmann conducting interviews with some of the prosecutors who later joined the squad. The names of individuals who did not join appear to have been redacted on privacy grounds.

Gov. Ron DeSantis

Judicial Watch said the interviews showed Mueller had “outsourced” hiring for the office to Weissmann. The group noted that many of those hired had donated to Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, or other Democrats. Other legal experts have said it would be illegal for Justice officials to take political contributions into account when making hiring decisions.

Other meetings of note include one in June 2017 about ethics issues regarding direct contacts with individuals who are represented by attorneys and another in November of that year about the U.S. Marshals Service‘s “threat assessment” involving dangers to Mueller’s staff.

Officials tried to keep the exact location of Mueller’s office out of official court filings, apparently due to security concerns. TV crews were also discouraged from filming the front of the building, on a busy street just a few blocks from House office annexes.

Social events captured on Weissmann’s calendar include birthday parties that seemed to be planned monthly, but took place less often as work bore down on the office last year. The calendar also shows the office favored “potluck” meals for holidays, including a “progressive potluck” holiday party on Dec. 13, 2017.

Some events on Weissmann’s calendar are noted as canceled, and it is not clear if the rest took place as scheduled. The calendar seems to get a bit less detailed and informative as time goes on. The last records released were from August 2018, about two months before Judicial Watch filed suit for the documents.

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