The New York Times reported today that AG Jeff Sessions has been interviewed by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. Seth Abramson explains why this is a huge deal.
Former criminal investigator and criminal defense attorney, Seth Abramson, weighs in on the bombshell article by The New York Times reporting that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was interviewed for hours as part of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and the possibility that Trump, Sessions, and others may be guilty of obstruction of justice.
Abramson began his mega-thread, writing that: “The Times notes that Sessions is the first member of the president’s Cabinet to be interviewed by Mueller, and that’s true. Still, it’s not the newsworthy part. What’s newsworthy is he appears—from all the evidence we have—to be one of the primary targets of the investigation.”
Continuing, Abramson published the following observations:
- An investigative “target” is someone you believe may have committed a crime, and who you don’t expect you would cut a deal with to get them to testify against someone higher up in the hierarchy of the organization (or, as applicable, criminal conspiracy) you are investigating.
- I’ve previously noted two levels of *potential* targets in the Mueller probe: first, the president and vice president; second, top individuals from the Trump campaign: Don Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, and Sessions. Pence—so far—doesn’t seem to be a target.
- The *public* evidence we have suggests Pence was indeed misled by Flynn about Flynn’s dealings with the Russians, and doesn’t appear to have been in the loop as to any Trump-Russia misdeeds. So for now, we cannot *assume* Mueller’s probe internally categorizes him as a target.
- The president is known to be under investigation for Obstruction, and we now have information to suggest the Mueller probe will be looking at possible Money Laundering. Conspiracy charges—for instance, involving Computer Crimes—and campaign-finance charges are also possible.
- *Any* POTUS is a big enough target that a prosecutor would probably give up someone who’d normally would be a target—so, in this case, any of Mueller’s second-tier targets—in order to get sufficient evidence to indict and convict (and first, impeach and remove) that president.
- In this case Mueller has already made that call—by entering into a negotiated plea with Michael Flynn on one of the least serious charges that could be brought against him, Mueller has communicated that Trump is indeed a target and indeed worth “losing” another primary target.
- So Mueller now has four remaining second-tier targets—Manafort, Kushner, Don Jr., and Sessions. Two of these are in the Trump family—Don Jr. and Kushner—and prosecutors ordinarily assume family members will not “roll” on other family members. That leaves Manafort and Sessions.
- But Mueller chose to prosecute Manafort in a case he knew would not go forward on the date he originally asked for—May—due to its complexity. This confirms (a) Manafort is a target, not a candidate for cooperation with the probe, and (b) Mueller doesn’t expect that to change.
- If Mueller ever did want to flip rather than just jail Manafort, he would have made that play immediately after indicting him, and Manafort would’ve taken the offer immediately after being indicted. But it’s clear now both Mueller and Manafort expect Manafort to go to trial.
- Manafort knows the value of his cooperation diminishes with each day—and there’s no reason to think Mueller can suddenly “turn up the pressure,” beyond the fact of an indictment, during the pretrial discovery process—so Manafort has pretty clearly made his choice on flipping.
- Manafort may’ve done this for many reasons: he doesn’t want to snitch; he knows or was told he’s considered (unalterably) a primary target; he made an offer to flip and was refused; he thinks he can beat his charges; he’s waiting to see if more serious (Russia) charges arise.
- In any case, because they’re Trump’s family, Jared and Don Jr. must be treated as targets—not potential witnesses against Trump. So the question becomes, did Flynn give Mueller enough on Trump that he doesn’t need his other option (Sessions)? Or does he need to flip Sessions?
For those unfamiliar with Abramson’s credentials, his online bio reads in part:
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Seth worked for eight years as a criminal defense attorney and criminal investigator and is now a tenure-track professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at University of New Hampshire. His teaching areas include digital journalism, post-internet cultural theory, post-internet writing, and legal advocacy (legal writing, case method, and trial advocacy).
Trained as a criminal investigator at Georgetown University (1996) and then the Harvard Criminal Justice Institute (2000-2001), Seth is a member in good standing of both the New Hampshire Bar and the Federal Bar for the District of New Hampshire. He’s worked for three public defenders—two state and one federal—representing over 2,000 criminal defendants over that time in cases ranging from juvenile delinquency to first-degree murder. He first testified in federal court as a defense investigator at the age of 19; represented his first homicide client at the age of 22 as a Rule 33 attorney for the Boston Trial Unit of the Committee for Public Counsel Services; and won his first first-degree murder trial at 29. Between 2001 and 2007, he was a staff attorney for the Nashua Trial Unit of the New Hampshire Public Defender.
His official bio goes on to note that:
Seth is regularly interviewed about politics and higher education by domestic and International media. Recent interviews include the BBC, CNN, NPR, PBS, ABC Radio, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Chronicle of Higher Education, New York Magazine, and The New England Review of Books. Seth’s essays have also been widely cited, including discussions on CNBC, PBS, FNC, BET, and NPR, as well as in Politico, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, The Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy, Slate, and Pitchfork.