“Paranoia is enveloping the White House” as staffers worry their colleagues are wearing wires for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s “Russia” investigation, according to a Monday report in Politico.
“Everyone is paranoid,” the report quotes a “person close to Trump’s White House” as saying. “Everyone thinks they’re being recorded.”
A clause of former National Security Advisor Micheal Flynn’s plea agreement is the source of this round of speculation. It reads as follows:
Your client acknowledges that your client’s cooperation may include, but will not necessarily be limited to: answering questions; providing sworn written statements; taking government-administered polygraph examination(s); and participating in covert law enforcement activities. [Emphasis added]
Such stipulations are not unusual in federal white collar crime plea agreements. The other guilty plea by a former Trump associate, that of low-level campaign staffer George Papadopoulos, included a similar admonition, reading, “Your client also agrees that the sentencing in this case may be delayed until your client’ s efforts to cooperate have been completed, as determined by the Government.”
According to Politico, this was enough to drive administration figures’ defense attorneys into a frenzy over possible wiretaps:
White House attorneys and private counsel representing both current and former Trump aides told POLITICO they immediately checked in with their clients once they learned about Mueller’s plea agreements with Papadopoulos and Flynn, asking whether they’d had any communications with their former colleagues which could have been secretly recorded while also reminding them to be diligent in avoiding conversations with anyone except their lawyer related to the Russia investigation.
The report is not, however, the first time the media has promoted a narrative of an administration gripped by fear that their co-workers might record them. In September, the New York Times’ Kenneth Vogel wrote a report based on his overhearing White House lawyers Ty Cobb and John Dowd at a busy Washington, DC steakhouse. Vogel claimed then that, “The uncertainty has grown to the point that White House officials privately express fear that colleagues may be wearing a wire to surreptitiously record conversations for Mr. Mueller.”
Ty Cobb was on hand to play down Politico’s sources’ reports of paranoia, saying that Mueller is “too good a professional and too good a prosecutor” to record people already represented by lawyers of their own – a move that, due to privilege rule and ethical canons, could render evidence unusable in court. “I don’t know anyone who feels that paranoia,” Cobb said. “To the uninformed and inexperienced this may be enjoyable. But in reality, it is unhinged speculation with no foundation.”
At least in public, Cobb has been relentlessly upbeat about the course of Mueller’s investigation, consistently downplaying the special counsel’s threat to the administration. After his prediction it would wrap up by Thanksgiving proved over-optimistic, he has begun substituting a January estimate.