U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has a distinctly modern problem, reported Bloomberg. The president, judging by his tweets, could try to pardon people in his circle even before prosecutors charge anyone with a crime.
Mueller’s all-star team of prosecutors, with expertise in money laundering and foreign bribery, has an answer to that. He’s Michael Dreeben, a bookish career government lawyer with more than 100 Supreme Court appearances under his belt.
Acting as Mueller’s top legal counsel, Dreeben has been researching past pardons and determining what, if any, limits exist, according to a person familiar with the matter. Dreeben’s broader brief is to make sure the special counsel’s prosecutorial moves are legally airtight. That could include anything from strategizing on novel interpretations of criminal law to making sure the recent search warrant on ex-campaign adviser Paul Manafort’s home would stand up to an appeal.
"He’s seen every criminal case of any consequence in the last 20 years," said Kathryn Ruemmler of Latham & Watkins LLP, who served as White House counsel under President Barack Obama. "If you wanted to do a no-knock warrant, he’d be a great guy to consult with to determine if you were exposing yourself.”
Dreeben has begun working on legal issues as a counselor to Mueller but is also retaining some of his solicitor general work for the sake of continuity, according to Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office. Carr declined to elaborate on Dreeben’s work with Mueller or make Dreeben available for comment.
Preemptive pardons are a distinct possibility now that current and former Trump advisers are under Mueller’s scrutiny. Trump himself has tweeted that everyone agrees the U.S. president has “complete power to pardon." Some of those kinds of executive moves have been well studied, including Gerald Ford’s swift pardon of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton’s exoneration of fugitive financier Marc Rich. But the legal territory is largely uncharted over pardons of a president’s own campaign workers, family members or even himself -- and how prosecutors’ work would then be affected.
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