Special counsel Robert Mueller has added 13 lawyers to his federal probe into the Russian government's role during the 2016 presidential election, bolstering the staff of an investigation that has grown in scope since the firing of former FBI director James Comey on May 9.
On June 16, Mueller spokesman Peter Carr confirmed to CNN that the Russia probe had so far been staffed with 13 lawyers, with more hires on the way.
On May 17, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the U.S. Department of Justice's investigation into the Russian government's meddling during the election and whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russian officials.
"I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability," Mueller said after his appointment.
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Five of Mueller's hires that have been identified come with extensive legal experience, according to Vox.
There is former Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben, who has argued more than 100 cases before the Supreme Court on behalf of the federal government.
Former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara tweeted on June 9 that Dreeben "is careful, meticulous, non-partisan, and fair-minded."
Next is Andrew Weissman, who heads the DOJ's criminal fraud unit. Weismann made his name rooting out organized crime families in New York and spearheading the Enron investigation.
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Mueller has hired James Quarles, an expert in campaign finance who had served as the assistant prosecutor in the Watergate investigation. Another hire is cybersecurity expert Aaron Zebley, who had previously worked in counterterrorism for the FBI.
Finally, Mueller has hired former deputy assistant attorney general Jeannie Rhee, presumably to help guide the probe through DOJ bureaucracy.
On June 14, it was disclosed that Mueller's probe was investigating President Donald Trump for potential obstruction of justice, with a focus on his conversations with and firing of Comey. All told, the federal probe is investigating Trump, the Russian government, the Trump campaign and potential financial crimes committed by Trump associates, The Washington Post reports.
On June 15, Trump took to Twitter to blast the federal probe as "the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history -- led by some very bad and conflicted people!" according to The New York Times.
Former deputy solicitor general Philip Allen Lacovara, who had worked on the Watergate probe as a prosecutor, deemed Trump's social media slam as suspicious.
"It’s a preemptive nuclear strike," Lacovara told The New York Times. "If you're afraid of what the prosecutors are going to find out, you try to debunk anything they might come up with in advance by attacking them."
Conservative pundits have expressed concern over the partisan makeup of Mueller's team. Quarles, Rhee and Weissmann have a well-documented history of liberal-leanings and have cumulatively contributed $53,000 to Democratic candidates since 1988, CNN reports.
Lacovara defended the integrity of Mueller's choices by noting that all of them have extensive legal experience.
"These are career professionals," Lacovara continued. "Naturally some are going to have political affiliations. But I'm absolutely confident that Bob Mueller is not appointing people with these significant professional achievements because they're Democrats."
While the federal probe into Russia is moving full steam ahead, some media reports indicate Trump is considering ordering Rosenstein to fire Mueller.
On June 16, the president took to social media to slam his deputy attorney general.
"I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director!" Trump tweeted, Politico reports. "Witch Hunt."
The ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, promptly responded to Trump's tweet with a statement warning that firing Rosenstein and Mueller would be met with fierce backlash.
"[I]f the president thinks he can fire Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and replace him with someone who will shut down the investigation, he's in for a rude awakening," Feinstein said, according to Politico. "Even his staunchest supporters will balk at such a blatant effort to subvert the law."