March 5, 2019 / 1:07 PM / 5 months ago

Beyond the report: Mueller's Russia probe designed to live on

(Reuters) - Criminal inquiries into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia and other issues will carry on no matter what happens with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, as other prosecutors continue cases that began with him but now have a life of their own.

Cases now partially or fully in the hands of prosecutors outside of Mueller’s team include those involving President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen and longtime Trump ally Roger Stone.

Those criminal probes and others could carry on for months if not years after Mueller completes his Russia investigation, potentially casting an even longer shadow over Trump’s time in the Oval Office.    

“I think Mueller has planned for his own obsolescence,” said Andrew Herman, a Washington-based lawyer who has been closely following the special counsel’s 22-month-old investigation.

    Mueller’s team has enlisted attorneys from other parts of the Justice Department to jointly prosecute three ongoing cases, court records show, and referrals by Mueller have given rise to independent inquiries in Washington, Virginia and New York.   

    The hard-charging U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan, otherwise known as the Southern District of New York, is behind the prosecution of Cohen, perhaps the most damaging case so far for Trump.   

    Cohen was sentenced last December to three years in prison for crimes including campaign finance violations over hush payments before the 2016 election to women who said they had sex with Trump.

   The office also has been scrutinizing the president’s Trump Organization business and sent a subpoena to Trump’s inaugural committee about a record $107 million in donations in 2016.    

    “Special counsel is temporary, but the Southern District is forever,” Herman said.               

    Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment for this article.

    NEW YORK PROBES 

    Some Trump allies say New York poses the biggest risk of boring into his family finances, a “red line” the president has warned prosecutors not to cross.   

    “It makes me wish the president had built his company in Columbus rather than New York,” said Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign aide.   

    Cohen told Congress in testimony last week that he was cooperating with Manhattan federal prosecutors on several ongoing probes and flagged other potential illegal activity by Trump.

    He said Trump had over the years misrepresented his assets, raising the prospect his family’s business could come under scrutiny for bank or insurance fraud.

    Prosecutors from elsewhere in the Justice Department are working alongside Mueller’s team in cases against Stone, a dozen Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking Democratic Party emails and a Russian internet company charged with using social media to meddle with the 2016 election.

    The involvement of prosecutors from the Washington, D.C., U.S. attorney’s office and the National Security Division means those three cases — all central to the issue of Russian interference — can continue after Mueller hands his report to the attorney general, a move expected any time that will mark the end of his work.   

    NOT WHITEWATER                          

    Trump says the Mueller probe into whether his campaign colluded with Russia to win the election is a politically-charged “witch hunt.” Moscow also denies collusion.

    In some ways, the Mueller team is in uncharted territory and not everyone is convinced the various investigations spawned out of the special counsel’s probe will have a lasting impact.

    The last big investigation involving a U.S. president — the Ken Starr probe into the Whitewater scandal and former President Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky — differed in that it was carried out by an independent counsel, which unlike a special counsel is not part of the Justice Department.

    Robert Ray, who succeeded Starr as independent counsel in 1999, said that he saw the joint prosecutions as a way for Mueller to return matters needing further inquiry to the Justice Department and a sign that he is closing up shop.

FILE PHOTO: Special Counsel Robert Mueller (R) departs after briefing members of the U.S. Senate on his investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

    He said it was unlikely that investigations into Trump or his inner circle would prosper for long, whether they stemmed from joint prosecutions or referrals like the Cohen probe.

    Ray said there were “substantial constitutional questions” around ensuring that the president can conduct the affairs of his office without the kind of interference that such probes bring. 

    “If anyone thinks these dangling investigations are going to be a stalking horse for a continuation of the Mueller investigation, they’re dreaming,” Ray said.

Reporting by Nathan Layne and Karen Freifeld; Editing by Alistair Bell

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