Mueller shedding more lawyers in Russia investigation

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Special counsel Robert Mueller is shedding more attorneys, another sign that his team of prosecutors has begun winding down parts of their investigation. | AP file photo

WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller is shedding more attorneys, another sign that his team of prosecutors has begun winding down parts of their investigation.

Two prosecutors detailed to the Russia investigation for the past year are returning to their duties in other parts of the Justice Department. They join two other attorneys who left the team, assigned to investigate potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, over the summer.

The departures are the latest indication that Mueller’s team is wrapping up parts of the investigation and focusing its efforts on critical remaining strands, including an active grand jury probe of longtime Donald Trump associate Roger Stone.

Mueller spokesman Peter Carr says prosecutor Brandon Van Grack has already returned to the Justice Department’s national security division but will continue to be involved in cases he was assigned to. That includes the investigation into former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn, who is scheduled to be sentenced in December.

Prosecutor Kyle Freeny will end her detail to the special counsel later this month and will return to her position in the Justice Department’s money laundering section, Carr said.

Van Grack and Freeny were on the teams prosecuting Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Elements of the Mueller investigation remain active, including inquiries into whether the president took action to obstruct the probe and the central unresolved question of whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 election. Trump’s lawyers and Mueller’s team have spent months negotiating a possible interview with the president.

But parts of the investigation have been referred to other offices of the Justice Department or largely taken over by them.

Prosecutors in Manhattan, for instance, secured a guilty plea in August from Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, while prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington have been assigned to the special counsel’s case against 13 Russians charged in a hidden but powerful social media effort to sway American public opinion.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in the District of Columbia also prosecuted W. Samuel Patten, who pleaded guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent in a case referred by Mueller’s office.

Other lawyers who left the Mueller team earlier this year include computer crimes prosecutor Ryan Dickey, who worked cases against a Russian social media troll farm and 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking Democratic groups during the campaign, and Brian Richardson.

Richardson was part of a team that prosecuted former Skadden Arps attorney Alex van der Zwaan for lying to the FBI while they were investigating Manafort and others involved in his Ukrainian work. Van der Zwaan was sentenced to 30 days behind bars.

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