[Marxism] Andrew Weissmann, Mueller’s Legal Pit Bull
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Nov 1 06:55:03 MDT 2017
(Clearly Mueller is going for the jugular by putting Weissmann in charge
of the investigation.)
NY Times, Nov. 1 2017
Andrew Weissmann, Mueller’s Legal Pit Bull
By MATT FLEGENHEIMER
WASHINGTON — The target was a New York City titan — plain-spoken but
Teflon, irresistible to the tabloids and insistent upon loyalty from his
The defendant, Vincent “the Chin” Gigante, had accumulated power as the
head of the Genovese crime family, feigning insanity to conceal his
guilt. A prosecutor in Brooklyn was at last prepared to cut him down,
using witnesses the government had flipped.
“He couldn’t stop people from talking about him,” the prosecutor, Andrew
Weissmann, said of Mr. Gigante, addressing jurors at the end of a
career-making federal court case in 1997. “When there’s a large
organization to run, you cannot erase yourself from the minds, and more
important the tongues, of your conspirators.”
Two decades later, Mr. Weissmann has turned his attention to a more
prominent set of prospective conspirators: He is a top lieutenant to
Robert S. Mueller III on the special counsel investigation into Russian
interference in the 2016 election and possible links to the Trump
campaign. Significantly, Mr. Weissmann is an expert in converting
defendants into collaborators — with either tactical brilliance or
overzealousness, depending on one’s perspective.
It is not clear if President Trump and his charges fear Mr. Weissmann as
they gird for the slog ahead. It is quite clear, former colleagues and
opponents say, that they should.
“I’m no fan of Donald Trump,” said Dan Cogdell, a Houston defense lawyer
who tangled with Mr. Weissmann when Mr. Weissmann helped lead the
federal task force investigating Enron in the early 2000s. “Frankly, I
can’t think of two people who deserve each other more than Andrew
Weissmann and Donald Trump.”
If Mr. Mueller is the stern-eyed public face of the investigation, Mr.
Weissmann, 59, is its pounding heart, a bookish, legal pit bull with two
Ivy League degrees, a weakness for gin martinis and classical music and
a list of past enemies that includes professional killers and
Empowered by Mr. Mueller, for whom he previously worked as general
counsel at the F.B.I., Mr. Weissmann has taken the lead in the
government’s case against Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign
chairman, whose indictment jolted the capital on Monday in a clear
signal of the team’s seriousness.
Mr. Weissmann could be seen at an initial hearing in Washington with an
easy smile, chatting up Mr. Manafort’s lawyer during a break in the action.
Friends describe Mr. Weissmann as relentless and boundary-grazing but
fundamentally fair, a creative legal strategist whose hyperdiligence
should not be confused with recklessness.
He is the prosecutor they would want if their relatives were charged
with crimes they did not commit, they say, and the one they would dread
if their family members were guilty.
“If there’s something to find, he’ll find it,” said Katya Jestin, a
former colleague in the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern
District of New York, who called Mr. Weissmann’s ethics unimpeachable.
“If there’s nothing there, he’s not going to cook something up.”
But many defense lawyers have chafed at what they see as a
scorched-earth approach, forged in Brooklyn while facing down Mafia
members and refined on the government’s unit of Enron superprosecutors,
which left a mixed legacy of high-profile successes, overturned
convictions and one unanimous defeat at the Supreme Court.
It was Mr. Weissmann and his team who stunned Houston society by
charging the wife of Enron’s chief financial officer with tax fraud,
applying pressure on the executive, who became a star witness.
It was Mr. Weissmann, more recently, who oversaw the predawn raid of Mr.
Manafort’s Virginia residence in July, when federal agents picked his
lock and prosecutors communicated their intention to indict him.
When that moment came this week, representatives for Mr. Manafort and
his longtime associate Rick Gates were given little warning: Prosecutors
bypassed the common Justice Department practice of inviting lawyers to
meet and discuss potential indictments beforehand, often an opportunity
for the defense to argue for leniency and for prosecutors to identify
potential holes in their case. As of Friday, people close to both men
said they had received no indication that an indictment was imminent.
And while Mr. Mueller has remained the chief villain in the eyes of the
president’s allies in conservative news media, efforts to discredit Mr.
Weissmann have picked up. For months, Mr. Trump’s defenders have sought
to draw attention to thousands of dollars in past donations from Mr.
Weissmann to Democrats, including former President Barack Obama.
Then came the shock-and-awe raid of Mr. Manafort’s home — a Weissmann
special, both admirers and critics recognized — the Zorro “Z” to
announce his presence in the case.
“There’s a name,” the conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh warned
listeners last week, recapping the “intimidating technique” afoot.
Prosecuting Mob Bosses
Prosecution can make strange bedfellows. And still this alliance stood out.
On one end of the negotiating table sat Mr. Weissmann, the
Princeton-educated son of a psychologist and a research scientist who is
credited with codiscovering, and coining the term, liposomes.
On the other was Salvatore Gravano, a hitman-turned-informant better
known as Sammy the Bull.
Mr. Weissmann and his team used Mr. Gravano as an explosive ally in
their bid to prosecute high-ranking mobsters.
In the case of Mr. Gigante, Mr. Weissmann and his colleagues leaned on
Mr. Gravano’s testimony, in large part, to dismantle a long-held
insanity defense. Mr. Gigante, nicknamed “The Oddfather,” had been known
to wander Greenwich Village in a bathrobe and pajamas, mumbling
incoherently, tending to a feigned image of incompetence and
cluelessness. “I’ve invested many years in this crazy act,” Mr. Gravano
quoted Mr. Gigante as saying during court proceedings.
Mr. Weissmann, who declined to be interviewed for this article, even
demonstrated that Mr. Gigante’s bathrobes were chosen with care: In
public, his coverings were soiled and tattered. Inside, he slipped into
“They respected him,” George A. Stamboulidis, Mr. Weissmann’s trial
partner, said of his colleague and their mob witnesses. “He’s very
bright and to the point but also has a pretty good read of his audience.
It was definitely a relationship of mutual respect.”
Geoffrey S. Mearns, a former prosecutor in the Eastern District who is
now the president of Ball State University in Indiana, said Mr.
Weissmann’s personality mirrored that of the office — with its
collection of scrappy, ambitious obsessives out to prove their relative
mettle in a city where another office, the Southern District in
Manhattan, was often viewed as more prestigious.
That their targets were some of the city’s most fearsome murderers
tended to focus the mind, as well.
“He was trained in this environment that we were essentially going after
these entrenched mob bosses,” Mr. Mearns said. “He’s trained as a
prosecutor to be aggressive.”
‘I Don’t Drink Evian’
The locals did not all take well to their visitors from the federal
government, dispatched to Houston after the collapse of Enron to
investigate and prosecute the company’s fraud.
“Out-of-town, carpetbagging, Evian-swilling Department of Justice
lawyers,” read one description in The Houston Chronicle.
This was an outrage, Mr. Weissmann told a reporter then. “I don’t drink
It was this swagger that helped define the government’s posture as the
task force went about its work, first with Mr. Weissmann as deputy
director, then later as director. (Mr. Mueller, as F.B.I. director at
the time, helped form the group.)
Their triumphs were many: With little precedent for such a complex
inquiry into financial wrongdoing, the team won indictments and prison
terms for almost all of the company’s top executives.
Mr. Weissmann was credited with acting on a hunch that Ben F. Glisan
Jr., the former Enron treasurer who had already pleaded guilty without
agreeing to cooperate, might be willing to say more. United States
marshals hauled in Mr. Glisan from prison, at Mr. Weissmann’s direction,
to appear before a grand jury. He became a key witness.
Prosecutors also initially earned a conviction of Arthur Andersen, an
accounting firm charged with illegally destroying documents related to
its audit of Enron, for obstruction of justice.
Colleagues praised his resourcefulness and legal guile. Opponents
accused him of overreach, citing a series of overturned convictions and
higher-court losses. Among the setbacks for the task force, the Arthur
Andersen victory was unanimously overturned by the Supreme Court over a
narrow issue involving jury instructions. Long before that outcome, the
case had drawn ferocious criticism from members of the business
community, who argued that the indictment alone amounted to a death
sentence for the firm.
“It’s pretty clear that Weissmann created a culture in which they
presumed that the people they were investigating were guilty,” said Tom
Kirkendall, a Houston defense lawyer who represented clients on
This reputation has trailed Mr. Weissmann among some defense lawyers in
the years since, propagated most vocally by a lawyer and author, Sidney
Powell, whose work has been taken up by Trump allies like Newt Gingrich.
(In 2015, Ms. Powell criticized Mr. Weissmann in an article for The New
York Observer — which was owned by Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law
— after Mr. Weissmann was named to lead the Justice Department’s
criminal fraud section.)
But those close to Mr. Weissmann — and some others less inclined to
appreciate the work of prosecutors generally — have zealously defended
his ethical compass.
Peter Neufeld, a civil rights lawyer and a founder of the Innocence
Project, praised Mr. Weissmann’s nerve during his time at the F.B.I., as
the agency grappled with the fallout of exonerations based on erroneous
testimony from forensic hair examiners.
“He realized that what had gone on in the past was wrong,” Mr. Neufeld
said, recalling Mr. Weissmann’s decision to order an audit of hundreds
of convictions that may have relied on faulty testimony. “He did it.
That was transformative.”
By 2013, both Mr. Weissmann and Mr. Mueller had left the agency. It
seemed unlikely that they would partner again.
Then came the call last spring.
Adam Goldman contributed reporting. Kitty Bennett contributed research.
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