DOJ ethics experts clear Mueller as special counsel

By Allen Cone  |  May 23, 2017 at 3:13 PM
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May 23 (UPI) -- Justice Department ethics experts cleared Robert Mueller on Tuesday as special counsel even though his former law firm represents clients possibly linked to his federal investigation into possible collusion between Donald Trump's campaign and Russians.

Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores wrote in an email ethics officials had "determined that Mr. Mueller's participation in the matters assigned to him is appropriate." Mueller's professional obligations and those imposed by government ethics regulations were considered, she said.

Mueller's former firm, Wilmer Hale, represents Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, and Trump's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Manafort had worked since 2006 for the former Russian-backed president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, and his dealings with Russia are being investigated.

Mueller did not represent them and resigned his role as a partner at Wilmer Hale to become the special counsel. He worked for the firm for three years.

Under a federal ethics regulation, government officials are barred from matters involving their former employers for a year unless they receive a waiver to do so.

The department noted that its regulations permit a waiver to be issued and professional responsibility rules permit him to participate in matters involving his former law firm's clients "so long as he has no confidential information about the client and did not participate in the representation."

Last Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller, a former FBI director, as special counsel to investigate Russia's election hacking and whether the Trump campaign colluded in that effort.

Rosenstein is the top official at the Justice Department responsible for overseeing the investigation after Jeff Sessions, Trump's attorney general, recused himself from the Russia investigation.

Mueller can issue subpoenas and can decide to inform members of the administration about the investigation's progress -- authority not granted to a U.S. attorney under the Justice Department's chain of command.

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