“13 Angry Democrats.” That’s how President Donald Trump has repeatedly disparaged the members of Robert Mueller’s investigative team. However, is it true? Are the members of Mueller’s team Democrats? Do any have ties to Hillary Clinton? Trump has also alleged that the team consists of “13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans.”
Daily Caller, a conservative website, has reported that “Voter registration records indicate that 13 of the attorneys are Democrats and three have no party affiliation.” None of the lawyers is a registered Republican, reports Daily Caller. A March 2018 story in The Washington Post reported essentially the same, saying, “publicly available voter registration information shows that 13 of the 17 members of Mueller’s team have previously registered as Democrats, while four had no affiliation or their affiliation could not be found.” Politifact reported that it had also confirmed 12 of those.
Robert Mueller himself is the 18th member of the team and its most important lawyer, of course. He has served in the administrations of both Republican and Democratic presidents (and was a registered Republican in the past). According to Politifact, Mueller “has occasionally donated to Republicans in both statewide and national races.” Trump also wrote on Twitter that the Mueller team was comprised of “13 Angry Democrats (plus people who worked 8 years for Obama).”
Eleven of the other 17 lawyers on special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation team have donated to Democrats, though, with multiple of them giving money to either the campaigns of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, a review by Heavy of Federal Election Commission records shows (two of those lawyers only donated at state-level races). None of the lawyers on the Mueller team is listed as donating money to Trump’s campaign or to the presidential campaigns of any past Republicans, although one donated to Republicans in non-presidential races in addition to giving more money to Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and a string of Democrats.
Six other lawyers on the team do not have previous campaign donations, a review of records shows. The lawyers have other ties that might provide an indicator of their politics; some have clerked for liberal Supreme Court justices, for example. One appears to have written a column proclaiming he was a Democrat.
Whether the donations matter is a question that tends to divide along partisan lines (conservative sites say it’s important; liberal sites like ThinkProgress argue that Trump himself previously donated to Democrats and say it’s irrelevant). However, Trump has increasingly highlighted what he calls the Mueller team’s biases.
The Los Angeles Times reported that “at least seven of the 15 lawyers have previously given money to Democrats.” However, other lawyers have been added to the team since that time. The lawyers on Mueller’s team include mostly attorneys with backgrounds in the Justice Department, Solicitor General’s Office, and east coast U.S. Attorney’s offices.
Peter Strzok, the controversial FBI agent who was reassigned from the Mueller team after his anti-Trump texts with FBI lawyer Lisa Page emerged, is no longer with the probe. The Strzok/Page texts have been key evidence used by Mueller critics to paint the probe as biased. In addition, Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr joined the team as its spokesman; he previously served as spokesman for Republican Senator Orrin Hatch.
Here’s a list of the team members and their donations and voter affiliations:
Donated to Democrats
1. Adam Jed
No campaign donations come up on the FEC website for Adam Jed. However, he has donated to Democrats on the state level. Wisconsin campaign finance records show he gave $1,000 in 2017 to Josh Kaul, a Democrat running for state Attorney General. Kaul worked as a lawyer for Perkins Coie, the law firm that funneled money from the Hillary Clinton campaign to Christopher Steele, the former British spy who compiled the controversial and unverified Donald Trump dossier. He’s a registered Democrat, according to The Post.
According to CNN, Jed “worked on several high-profile Supreme Court cases during the Obama administration,” including the case that overturned the Defense of Marriage Act and a case that “defended the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate in the Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius case.”
2. Andrew Weissmann
Andrew Weissmann is a veteran government prosecutor known for his controversial role on the Enron task force and for going after mob figures in New York. He’s known for his abilities at flipping lower-level defendants on bigger targets (and even going after family members), but Weissmann is controversial in other circles as some consider him an overreaching prosecutor who is sometimes overturned by higher courts.
He’s integrally involved in the Mueller team. On October 27, 2017, CNN reported, “top lawyers who are helping to lead the Mueller probe, including veteran prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, were seen entering the court room at the DC federal court where the grand jury meets to hear testimony in the Russia investigation.”
Weissmann is a Barack Obama and Democratic campaign donor, according to federal records. “Weissmann, who led the Enron investigation, previously gave $2,300 to Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008 and $2,000 to the Democratic National Committee in 2006, the same year Democrats won control of Congress. FEC records do not show any donations by Weissman in the 2016 election cycle,” CNN confirmed.
Here are the Obama-related donations on the FEC website:
The Washington Post reported that he’s a registered Democrat and noted, “Records seem to indicate a duplicate donation on the same day, though …Weissmann could confirm only one and would have to review records to assess whether the other might have been a recording error.”
3. Jeannie Rhee
Jeannie Rhee donated $5,400 to Hillary Clinton in 2015 and 2016, according to FEC records. The records show she gave $2,500 each to Obama for America and Obama Victory Fund 2012 in 2011. She’s a registered Democrat, The Post reports.
She also donated large amounts of money to Obama in 2008.
“Rhee also has contributed smaller amounts of money to the Democratic National Committee and other Democrats running for Congress,” Fox News reports. FEC records show she also gave $500 in 2013 to Udall for Congress. Mark Udall, a former Democratic senator from Colorado called Trump a “showboater with an ego bigger than the mountain” in 2016. She also donated money to Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island.
Here are the Clinton donations from the FEC website:
In 2011, she rejoined the Boston law firm WilmerHale “as a partner in the Litigation/Controversy Department and a member of the Investigations and Criminal Litigation Practice. Ms. Rhee will resume her practice focused on advising clients who are the subject of government investigations, including white-collar criminal investigations, False Claims Act allegations and securities enforcement matters.”
The WilmerHale press release said that Rhee had served “for two years as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel for the US Department of Justice, where she advised the Attorney General, the White House and senior agency officials on constitutional, statutory and regulatory issues regarding criminal law, criminal procedure, executive privilege, civil rights and national security.” She has also served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s office in the District of Columbia where she was involved in the “successful prosecution of officers of the Washington Teachers’ Union. Ms. Rhee also served as a legislative fellow in the office of former Senator Tom Daschle and as a counsel in the US Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy.”
4. Andrew Goldstein
Andrew Goldstein, a registered Democrat, came to Mueller’s team from the U.S. attorney’s office in New York, where he once served under Trump critic Preet Bharara. According to NBC News, “Goldstein was former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s top public corruption prosecutor and kept the same role under Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim. He’s known for multiple successful prosecutions of New York lawmakers on corruption charges. He’s also highly regarded in the Southern District and across Justice for those prosecutions, his thoroughness in investigations, and high level of success.”
According to Fox News, “Goldstein contributed a combined $3,300 to Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012.” You can see one of his donations above.
5. Greg Andres
FEC records show that Andres has donated money to Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate. Here’s the FEC document of the latest of those donations:
According to Reuters, “Most recently a white-collar criminal defense lawyer with New York law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, Andres, 50, served at the Justice Department from 2010 to 2012. He was deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division, where he oversaw the fraud unit and managed the program that targeted illegal foreign bribery.” He’s a registered Democrat, according to The Post.
6. James Quarles
FEC records show that James Quarles, a registered Democrat, has donated thousands of dollars to the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. He has also donated money recently to other Democrats, including Friends of Chuck Schumer and two other Democrats. He has a lengthy donation history dating back years. He did donate to two Republicans over the years: According to FEC records, he gave $2,500 to Friends of Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican. He also gave money to then Senator George Allen, a Virginia Republican, in 2005. Most of his giving is to Democrats, however. According to The Washington Post, his donations to Democrats totaled more than $30,000 in 2016.
He also gave thousands of dollars to Obama both in 2008 and 2012. Fox News noted, “Most recently, in October 2016, Quarles donated $2,700 to Clinton’s presidential campaign. Quarles also donated over $7,000 to Obama over the last decade.”
Quarles has quite a legal pedigree. He “started his career working on the Watergate Special Prosecution Force,” The Independent reported. Noted CNN, “James Quarles has spent the last several years at a private firm focusing on complex litigation matters and management, but it’s how his career started that might prove critical….Quarles worked on the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, for which he served as an assistant special prosecutor.”
7. Elizabeth Prelogar
Elizabeth Prelogar, a registered Democrat, gave $250 to Hillary Clinton in 2016, according to FEC records. She also gave $500 total to Obama for America and the Obama Victory Fund 2012. According to the National Law Journal, Prelogar “an assistant to the solicitor general, is working with deputy solicitor general Michael Dreeben in his part-time role in Mueller’s legal team.”
The National Law Journal noted, “Prelogar, a former law clerk to Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, is a Harvard Law School graduate and formerly worked in private practice at Hogan Lovells…Prelogar also appears to be fluent in Russian.” (She was also Miss Idaho 2004).
8. Brandon Van Grack
Brandon Van Grack, a registered Democrat, gave small amounts to ActBlue, an effort to raise money for Democrats, and to a Democratic candidate for Congress in 2012. In 2008, he gave about $286 to Barack Obama.
According to his LinkedIn page, Van Grack is a special assistant U.S. Attorney in the National Security and International Crime Unit. He also served as a counsel to the Assistant Attorney General, and “Provided strategic legal advice and counsel to the Department’s leadership on national security matters, including cyber crimes, export controls, economic sanctions, espionage, and theft of trade secrets.” He was a law clerk to federal judge Thomas Hogan and was in private practice at Baker Botts LLP.
9. Rush Atkinson
Rush Atkinson is a Hillary Clinton campaign donor. “Atkinson is an attorney on detail from the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section of the DOJ. Records show that Atkinson donated $200 to Clinton’s campaign in 2016,” Fox News reported. The Post reports he’s a registered Democrat.
10. Kyle Freeny
CBS News named Kyle Freeny as one of the members of Mueller’s team. “Freeny is serving on detail from the DOJ’s Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section,” reported CBS. He’s a registered Democrat, according to The Post.
FEC records show that Kyle Freeny of the DOJ donated $250 to Hillary for America in 2016.
In 2012, Freeny gave $300 to Obama. In 2008, Freeny also gave $250 to Obama, FEC records show.
11. Aaron Zelinsky
There are no federal campaign donations listed for Aaron Zelinsky. Daily Caller reports that Zelinsky “donated $100 in 2014 to the Branford Democratic Town Committee in Connecticut and $100 to a Democratic state lawmaker in 2016.” He’s a registered Democrat, the Post reports.
The Daily Caller reported that Zelinsky wrote this column proclaiming to be a Democrat, and Politifact noted the column in a story on Mueller’s team but did not confirm it. The 2016 article starts, “I’m a Democrat, but here’s some free advice to Republicans: starting right now, get off the ‘traditional marriage’ bus as fast as you can. If today’s election showed anything, it’s that the demographic tide is turning against you. Big time.”
The author biography listed by The Huffington Post with that column matches details in Zelinsky, the Mueller lawyer’s, biography as reported by New Haven Independent when he joined the Mueller team.
According to the New Haven newspaper, he clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justices John Paul Stevens and Anthony Kennedy. He was praised as a “professional, non-partisan, straight shooter,” in that story.
No Campaign Donations
1. Zainab Ahmad
According to The Daily Caller, Zainab Ahmad “appears to have registered as a Republican at the age of 18, but has since changed her registration status to unaffiliated.”
A review of FEC records shows no campaign donations for Ahmad. She has worked on several terrorism cases in the past for the government, including that of al-Qaeda terrorist Najibullah Zazi, who “pleaded guilty in 2010 to terrorism charges relating to a plot to bomb the New York City subways on the 9/11 anniversary,” CNN reported.
2. Ryan Dickey
The Post says he’s a registered Democrat. FEC records show no campaign donations by Ryan Dickey. According to CNN, Ryan Dickey “was previously an assistant US attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia and also worked in the Justice Department’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.”
He is “a federal prosecutor responsible for investigating several high-profile cybercrime cases,” The Washington Times reported.
3. Michael Dreeben
Michael Dreeben has no campaign donations in his background (although some media outlets initially falsely reported a donation as his that was made by a person with the same name). He’s a registered Democrat, according to The Post. “Dreeben is one of only eight lawyers ever to have argued more than 100 cases before the Supreme Court,” The Weekly Standard reports.
4. Scott Meisler
No campaign donations and no voter registration affiliation come up for Scott Meisler. Reuters described Meisler as “an appellate attorney with the Justice Department’s criminal division.”
5. Brian M. Richardson
Richardson is a former clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer. Due to the commonality of his name, it’s not clear from FEC records whether Bryan Richardson has made any donations. The Post says he has no voter affiliation.
6. Aaron Zebley
There are no campaign donations or voter affiliation listed for Aaron Zebley. According to Fox News, Zebley “is a former partner at WilmerHale, who previously served with Mueller at the FBI as chief of staff. Zebley served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia.”