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Monday, January 22, 2018

Originally posted on Buzzfeed.

The last special prosecutor who went after a president didn’t take him down — but he did ruin Jim Guy Tucker’s life.

You don’t remember Jim Guy Tucker? He was Bill Clinton’s successor as governor of Arkansas, and he was the guy independent counsel Ken Starr did manage to convict, on charges that he’d lied on his application for a loan a decade earlier when he was in the television business. And Donald Trump’s aides would be well-served by googling him — and Webb Hubbell, and Susan and Jim McDougal, and William J. Marks Sr. — about the brutal collateral damage of Starr’s investigation, which originally focused on a real estate deal known as Whitewater but wound up destroying several mid-level Clinton associates before it landed on its improbable destination: Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.

As a former FBI director and veteran prosecutor, Robert Mueller may not perpetrate the same kind of clumsy abuses and copious leaks that marred the Whitewater investigation led by Starr, who lacked prosecutorial experience. But Mueller is expected to vigorously pursue all significant leads with the full authority of his office and the methods employed in any major case. The team he has recruited will exploit the vulnerabilities of Trump’s associates, forcing them to disgorge facts that they and the White House would prefer to keep hidden.

In other words, just like Starr and other independent or special counsels, Mueller may well prosecute offenses that appear tangential to the Russia case in order to turn targets into witnesses. That puts every single player in Trump’s orbit, starting with minor and seemingly irrelevant characters, in serious jeopardy.

And as Gene Lyons and I learned while covering the Starr investigation to write The Hunting of the President, the impact of those prosecutions will remain long after the national attention turns elsewhere. That sense of disproportionate damage was among the reasons why most Americans were content to see the Independent Counsel Act lapse. Yet Special Counsel Mueller seems likely to operate with the same latitude as Starr did.

The first indication of his determination to expand the probe as he sees fit came last Friday, when Reuters reported that the special counsel has taken over a Virginia grand jury probing former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s lobbying for Turkish interests. Whatever Flynn may have done as an alleged agent of the Turkish government, his activities on its behalf don’t seem to have been directly related to his contacts with the Russians or the money he received from Russian sources. For Mueller, however, Flynn’s legal jeopardy in the Turkish matter will provide heavy leverage over the retired general to testify about Trump and others. For the prosecutor, that is enough to justify his interest in the case.

Certainly that is how Starr and his team of hard-boiled, sometimes partisan prosecutors and FBI agents handled Whitewater — a failed land deal that lost money for the Clintons (in part because their partner, McDougal, who had severe mental and physical illnesses, had swindled them). Seeking witnesses who would testify against Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Office of Independent Counsel investigated scores of current and former Clinton staffers, forcing them to lawyer up at great expense. Eventually the OIC indicted well over a dozen of their friends and acquaintances, most of whom had nothing to do with Whitewater at all.

Beginning in 1994, the investigative pressures on the Clinton White House from House and Senate investigative committees, as well as from Starr’s OIC, grew more intense year by year, leading up to impeachment in 1999. Nothing was too small to draw prosecutorial attention. A phone call from a White House aide to a Treasury staffer could be interpreted as “obstruction of justice.” A trivial difference of memory between two White House staffers could be interpreted as “perjury” and obstruction. Those hardball tactics were brought to bear on witness after witness, not only in Whitewater but in the Monica Lewinsky investigation as well.

Equally damaging to the Clintons, if not more so, was the gushing spigot of leaks from Starr’s office, including plenty of “fake news” about damning evidence, forthcoming indictments, purported plea bargains and immunity agreements, all designed to increase pressure on reluctant witnesses. Mueller has a reputation for not leaking. And yet, the Russia affair is playing out in daily leaks. Most recently, Reuters somehow learned that the special counsel has taken over the Flynn-Turkey case.

And Trump’s fractious and tarnished aides are a prosecutor’s dream. It isn’t hard to imagine major and minor disagreements among the eternally feuding Trump campaign team when they are brought in to talk with the special counsel’s lawyers and FBI agents. What will Roger Stone, Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon, and Jared Kushner say about the campaign — and one another — under oath?

Nor is it hard to imagine that the special counsel will seek a complete accounting of money flows from Russian-related entities into the Trump Organization and the Trump campaign. A demand like that might require not only corporate and campaign documents but also testimony from Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, and counsel Michael Cohen, as well as a long list of other Trump Organization employees and business associates (such as former mob associate Felix Sater). Inevitably their recollections will differ, which could prove worse than embarrassing.

It was with the approval of Clinton’s own attorney general Janet Reno that Starr inexorably expanded his mission, turning a probe of Arkansas real estate scams into a prosecution of White House sexual misconduct, with detours through fruitless distractions such as “Filegate” and “Travelgate” along the way. But even if Mueller confines his investigation to issues arising directly from Russia, he will be hunting in a target-rich environment. Surrounding Trump are many potentially vulnerable people — and unlike Starr, Mueller won’t have to stretch his mandate to examine them.

Already there are discernible parallels between Mueller’s probe and the Starr investigation, none auguring favorably for the White House. Consider Whitewater itself, a tiny parcel of property in backwoods Arkansas, a seemingly improbable focus of criminal conspiracy — and then consider the Trump and Kushner real estate empires, many orders of magnitude larger. Owned and operated by persons of interest and potential targets, both firms may anticipate a blizzard of subpoenas for documents and employee testimony. If Mueller uncovers crimes unrelated to Russia, he will prosecute them, just as Starr did with several financial offenses that had nothing to do with Whitewater.

One of those distantly related cases led to the controversial fraud conviction of Tucker, then the Democratic governor of Arkansas, who Starr hoped would testify against his old political nemesis Clinton. Tucker knew nothing derogatory about Clinton and said so. He swiftly went from the governor’s mansion to house arrest. It isn’t so far-fetched to imagine how Mueller might uncover new information about another sitting governor, New Jersey’s Chris Christie, who barely escaped prosecution in the “Bridgegate” scandal that sent three of his aides to prison. And then what would Christie say about Trump?

Starr indicted and jailed Webster Hubbell, Clinton’s longtime friend and associate attorney general, for embezzling funds from the Little Rock law firm where he and Hillary had been partners — a crime that had nothing to do with Whitewater. (He also indicted Hubbell’s wife, accountant, and tax lawyer, although those charges were ultimately dropped.) Starr wanted Hubbell to testify against Hillary, who was actually a victim of his theft, and spent years pushing him to provide evidence against her. Many, many others — including Ellen McCathran, the National Archives staffer who memorialized the president’s whereabouts — had to lawyer up after being called as witnesses.

The experience of watching a prosecutor try to turn his friends against him was brutal. In a legendary 2004 exchange with Peter Jennings, Clinton angrily recalled “a time when people you knew and cared about were being indicted, carted off to jail, bankrupted, ruined, because they were Democrats — and because they would not lie.”

That brutality is built into the structure of even an evenhanded federal prosecution. And we don’t know where Mueller’s inquiry will go. One direction — urged by Democratic senators — is investigating perjury and other charges against Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, over false testimony concerning his meetings with the Russian ambassador last year. No doubt Mueller wants to hear from Sessions about his participation in the firing of James Comey, after promising to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

For the moment, Sessions can do little but wait and fidget, like so many others in the White House, the Justice Department, and the business entities controlled by the principals in this case.

The process of a special counsel investigation is not necessarily oriented toward justice in the abstract, but toward the prosecution of specific crimes, usually moving upward on an organizational totem pole by squeezing every available witness. All of the indictments brought by Starr — and every plea deal — aimed to topple those two targets atop the greasy pole, Bill and Hillary. The OIC spent almost eight years and nearly $70 million pulling down a lot of other people who were in the way.

In the White House, the Trump Organization, and the Kushner company, potential witnesses and targets are waiting for this special counsel investigation to develop, with little idea what may come next.

As former White House counsel and Watergate witness John Dean said recently, with at least a touch of empathy: “They don’t know what their jeopardy is. They don’t know what they’re looking at. They don’t know if they’re a part of a conspiracy that might unfold. They don’t know whether to hire lawyers or not, how they’re going to pay for them if they do … It’s an unpleasant place.”

Joe Conason is the editor-in-chief of The National Memo

37 Responses to Why Mueller Probe May Be More Like Whitewater Than Watergate

  1. This is a witch hunt from the get go. Special prosecutors are only appointed when a CRIME is committed. The ONLY crime known thus far is the leaking and unmasking. More liberal lied and deception. Liberals should be deported or jailed as TERRORISTS.

      • How does that work in Russia, Comrade? Are you considered a patriot for being a troll that gets on sites and lie like you do? Too bad we couldn’t meet for coffee. Wouldn’t that be fun? But that would require you to travel from Moscow to NY. I doubt you could make it through immigration, seeing you are on several Terrorist watch lists.

          • You people are beyond stupid. The whole Russian thing is over. Done. Nothing there, nor was there anything except fabrications and lies. You know, the usual liberal tactics. Lies and deception. It’s all you ever have.

          • Hey, whatever gets you through the night. But reality is going to intrude on you in the end, and you’ll have no idea what happened.

        • Awww…look folks…Keppie is on the ropes and it was his own Commie lover Lard Ass in Chief who outed Keppie.

          It would be great fun if you’d learn to tell the truth for a change.

          We know you are a paid Russian Troll who comes to National Memo through the Deep Net. Got the balls to admit it?

          • Covfefe got to your brain? Is covfefe the newest Putin poison? Or is covfefe you only steady diet?

            I notice you didn’t try to deny you are a Russian hacker or that you originate on Deep Net. Slick as a baby’s bottom and Lard Ass would be proud of you…getting the hang of lame ass nothing responses.

          • I dont need to deny any of your liveral lies, because they are just that, lies. That’s all you liberal commies have are lies and deception. You make up your own k
            life as you go to feel revelent and important because you have no life other than posting liberal loes and propaganda. It’s obvious it is YOU that are “on the ropes” seeing you people are fixated on a typo. GET HELP ELIE. YOU NEED IT MOST.

          • Did it take you very long to learn how to play your denial games like Sessions and Trump do?

            You Confederate Nazis will be in your wooden “coats” before you ever get to destroy our freedom of speech, our right to vote for the candidates, WE, not YOU want.

            From the responses from other posters on this thread, I’d say it’s time for you to get professional help.

            The only ones on the ropes are you, Trump, Sessions, McConnell, Ryan and Flynn. But do keep up your Putin cheerleading. It only proves what low lifes Trump has for supporters.

          • LOL. You are soooo predictable. It is liberals that are preventing free speech by protesting and rioting to stop ANYONE with an opposing view from even speaking. It is liberals that immediately turn to violence when hey do not get their way, as in todays shooting of a Congressman. As far as Putin, he only seems to be important to liberals who seem to think all things Russian, even though there has not been ANY evidence to support liberal lies.
            It is liberals that are now certifiably insane. It is liberals that are TERRORISTS. All liberals should be deported or jailed as TERRORISTS. You need to be in a nice padded cell so you will not hurt anyone. GET HELP ELIE.

          • Happy Birthday to YOOOOOOO Happy Birthday to YOOOOOOO Happy Birthday Mr. Lard ASS….Happy Birthday to YOOOOOO…and as a birthday present?

            We have as Special Prosecutor, a top US criminal expert, investigating Mr. Lard Ass ON his birthday for obstruction of justice. Now blow out your candles Mr. Lard Ass….Keppie wants a slice of the “best chocolate cake in the world.” Sorry, no file in it for Trump to get out of jazil.

          • wow. You have really lost it Elie. Get the help you so desperately need. Even you can become a normal well adjusted person.

          • Let me guess. You barely finished grade school because you were the class clown. Now, you are like Lard Ass…you only love the attention you get from being a numbskull who feels it is your destiny to change the world to your precise engineered design?

            I cannot possibly imagine what the hell your parents ever did to you to turn such a nitwit into useless flotsam.

            You can make all the judgments you like about all of us. But no one agrees with you. Do you love being the oddball in society who just doesn’t fit? Oh…that’s right. You never did fit into anything since childhood. Least of all, your Pampers. A lard ass is a lard ass.

            What I find hilarious is that you can’t muster any support from anyone else and yet you think you are the only one who can pass judgment. What a sorry, pathetic piece of hick trash you are.

    • Google is paying 97$ per hour! Work for few hours and have longer with friends & family! !mj247:
      On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $8752 this last four weeks.. Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve had.. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
      !mj247:
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    • Gee, kep, I guess you don’t care about the truth. Then again that is a concept that Trumpettes like you have difficulty with.

      • LOL. Liberals only deal with lues and deception, just like Emperor Obama. Not word of truth EVER passed through his lips. Maybe you should try opening your eyes ? But then again, liberals ARE TERRORISTS. ALL SHOULD BE DEPORTED OR JAILED

          • You know what’s really hilarious? When Mueller chose the US’s top criminal expert, Dreeben, you just know Trump and his gang of liars is going down.

            What I find most amusing is that now for all time, the CEOs who have been doing the same brand of intimidating of employees, ripping off consumers and taxpayers and basically believing in their own self created power go down with Trump.

            It was bound to happen. From the minute the Tea Party infiltrated the Republican Party, we all knew there wasn’t much time left before the GOP ended it’s reign of Corporate Corruption.

            There’s no way Trump didn’t know what his campaign people were doing or “who” they were. He hand picked them. The buck stops with Trump. Just like the righties all said about Obama.

            Trump cannot use his “get out of jail free” card this time nor can he dare use the “I didn’t know” card either. The Republicans are eating their own words when they called Obama an “amateur.”

            But you can see clearly what kind of thug they consider an “expert” …at corruption. It also shows why a too squeaky clean Clinton and Obama were simply not up to the Republican Party’s corruption standards.

        • Hey kep…Are lues anything like covfefe? You bet Obama is a world class leader. You bet your Lard Ass is going down. You wouldn’t know truths or facts if they smacked you in the kisser.

          Maybe you need to take the blinders off? Maybe you need to stop kissing a Lard Ass?

      • Wonder if Keppie is laughing at the “birthday prsesent” Mueller gave him yesterday…Investigation into Trump’s obstruction of justice.

    • What makes this doubly hilarious is that YOU’RE A BIRTHER. You literally hounded the last President because you could not believe a black man could be so much better than you, and now you’re complaining that people are being meeeean to poor President* Trump.

  2. It may be an unpleasant place, but one well-deserved by just about everyone who now works in the White House, for that matter, and I’m glad it’s finally happening.

    • Google is paying 97$ per hour! Work for few hours and have longer with friends & family! !mj194d:
      On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $8752 this last four weeks.. Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve had.. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
      !mj194d:
      ➽➽
      ➽➽;➽➽ http://GoogleFinancialJobsCash194MarketTrainingPay$97Hour ★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★:::::!mj194d..,…

  3. Real Danger For Trump’s Gang CULT ,KLAN or what ever you want to call it with Sessions going to be question he im sure knows enough to spoil a lot of the cult members of the DUMPSTER’S circus but maybe he will get a lot out first . Sessions can now say good bye for the DIRTY DUMPSTER FULL OF BULLSHIfT is throwing him under the bus . who knows he might just turn in to a coward like the draft dodging women beater DONNY DUMP and if be it Sessions dose he might just tell all he knows on the DUMPSTER and would be great to see either the DUMPSTER hang or get bury .still both ways are too good for the clown

  4. Joe Conason obviously would “hope” that none of the conflicts of interest, violations to emoluments laws or Trump’s spite towards anyone who dares get too close to his Russian Ties disappears.

    How is this in any way like White Water? It isn’t. White Water was created by Rove, Reed, Norquist, Starr and Prince. WaterGAte was created just like RussiaGate, by the Republican Party.

    I think we need to start naming names of the so called “Trump Base.” If a tiny base is more powerful than the people who voted 3 million more votes for Hillary, who the hell are these too powerful “base” Trump people? On our tax dollars?

    The Dastardly Five hated President Clinton for being a Rhodes Scholar and a product of a single mother since their days as Young Republicans in college. But you do have to hand it to them. They set the stage for today’s bastardly rabid dogs who pulled the same spiteful stunts on President Obama and Hillary.

    Trump came into office with a fine for money laundering from the US goverment the Republicans now allowed him to be Numero Uno. That shows the low level of respect for the law Republicans have.

    Mueller must know there a crimes committed by Trump and his campaign. Anyone who DARE try to say Trump didn’t know what his staff was doing better not even try. This nut is a micro manager who knows every detail of everything his staff does. That’s why he has NO time for daily NSA, CIA or FBI briefings.

    Calling Mueller’s investigation a “probe” is an attempt to water down the actions and mouth of the nut in the White House. Ooooh but let’s all revisit that AG Loretta Lynch called Hillary’s emails that amounted to a big nothing, “a matter.”

    You see how desperate the right wing is to squash anything the Lard Ass in the White House does. If he gets away with Russian hacking into our elections, it will prove for all time, there is one law for the rich and thousands of laws for the poor.

    • I was reading in the LA Times this morning that Trump is considering firing Mueller…..that should be interesting, and it would really put the kibosh on him big time! It’s like an out-and-out confession that he’s guilty….if he weren’t, he’d not be so afraid of Mueller’s investigation!

      • He’s pretty much on target in the same pattern of WaterGate. Nixon fired Archibald Cox and replaced him with Republican Elliott Richardson who refused Nixon’s request to stop the WaterGate investigation or Richardson from appointing a special prosecutor.

        So, Trump makes a royal ass of himself because Mueller was Trump’s possible choice to replace Comey back when Trump fired Comey. Now suddenly, the two faced Trump is saying Mueller is tied to the Dems? How’s that going to look if he fires the guy he planned to replace Comey?

        Trump has to go and the Republicans know it. They are treading on deep water and about to drown themselves in the Trump swamp. All this so they could undo everything Obama put in place.

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