WASHINGTON, U.S. - While U.S. President Donald Trump downplays the ever expanding special counsel probe against his campaign’s ties with Russia, and his press secretary singing the same tune - a report has now revealed that White House officials are living in constant fear.
According to a latest report, officials within the White House and President Donald Trump’s network of former aides and associates are paranoid about being recorded.
The report explained that a couple of things have accentuated those fears.
First a deal struck between the special counsel Robert Mueller and Trump’s former campaign aide George Papadopoulos was revealed.
Adding to the paranoia within the Oval office staff was the fact that Papadopoulos had been cooperating with Mueller’s investigation quietly for months before the revelation was unsealed in late October.
Then, a little over a month later, Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was revealed to have agreed to cooperate with investigators as part of the plea deal he reached last week.
Both the developments in the six-month long probe have added to the worries that were already inside Trump’s circle surrounding the secret deal struck earlier this summer by Papadopoulos.
The report pointed out that both cases raise the possibility that other current or former colleagues have also flipped sides.
This is said to be prompting anxiety that those people could be wearing wires to secretly tape record conversations.
A person close to Trump’s White House said, “Everyone is paranoid. Everyone thinks they’re being recorded.”
Further, many experts have pointed out that the plea deal Flynn struck with government prosecutors included an agreement that the former White House national security adviser could avoid a potential lengthy jail term in part by “participating in covert law enforcement activities.”
This could be a motivation for those who might have something to hide and might want to come clean.
Experts pointed out that wiring up cooperating witnesses is a routine law enforcement tactic used thousands of times a year in criminal cases and on occasion for more complex white-collar investigations.
The process is reportedly followed in a bid to obtain a record of other conspirators and witnesses talking about their conduct, which can be used as confirmation when pressing for indictments and as first-hand evidence to be introduced during trial.
The report pointed out that Mueller, who is a former FBI director, and his team of veteran Justice Department prosecutors that he has surrounded himself with are schooled in the benefits of the wiring technique.
Solomon Wisenberg, a former deputy on Kenneth Starr’s independent counsel investigation into President Bill Clinton said, “I think they’d be derelict of duty if they didn’t use it.”
The report in Politico revealed that White House attorneys and private counsel representing both current and former Trump aides said that they immediately checked in with their clients once they learned about Mueller’s plea agreements with Papadopoulos and Flynn, asking whether they’d had any communications with their former colleagues which could have been secretly recorded while also reminding them to be diligent in avoiding conversations with anyone except their lawyer related to the Russia investigation.
An attorney who represents a senior Trump aide caught up in the Russia investigation said, “They’re probably shitting bricks. How can you not?”
However, recording conversations without consent from all the parties involved carries serious risks for Mueller.
Mueller is currently also being closely watched by experienced defense lawyers and an army of Trump allies eager for any opportunity to show the special counsel is acting unethically or even illegally while investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
According to the report, the biggest red line is that the special counsel is not supposed to wire up a witness to talk with a person who he knows already has a lawyer representing them on the subject matter that is being discussed on the tape.
That includes conversations covering details of a joint legal defense strategy.
According to Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer, he didn’t expect Mueller to use Papadopoulos or Flynn as witnesses to help his case, particularly to tape record anyone who is represented by a lawyer.
Noting the legal and ethical constraints, Cobb said, “Mueller is too good a professional and too good a prosecutor to tape represented individuals and he doesn’t want his office or his important mission to be tainted.”
Cobb added that he’s counseled the White House that it had little to fear about people wearing wires, saying the tactic would not help answer the questions central to Mueller’s Russia investigation.
He said, “I don’t know anyone who feels that paranoia. To the uninformed and inexperienced this may be enjoyable. But in reality, it is unhinged speculation with no foundation.”
According to former Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman, Mueller is on solid ground with ample court precedent to use witnesses wearing wires with anyone who isn’t known to have a lawyer.
He added that the special counsel also has plenty of room to use the technique with people who do have lawyers.
Akerman said, “Otherwise, the government would never be able to use body wires against career criminals like members of the mafia who always have lawyers.”
He added that defense attorneys rarely succeed in getting tape-recorded conversations thrown out in court, because the cooperator can still testify about what the person told them.
Adding, “The tape recording ensures that what the jury hears of the conversation is actually what happened, as opposed to someone’s testimony as to what happened.”
Asked about Cobb’s advice to the White House that it shouldn’t fret about colleagues wearing wires, Akerman replied, “That’s good. Let them think that.”