No quick end for Russia inquiries
Gird yourself. It’s a complex case, and it will take time.
Eager to see the WASHINGTON results of all those Russia investigations in Congress and in special counsel Robert Mueller’s office? Well, take a deep breath. It’ll probably be awhile.
The constant stream of news about witnesses, subpoenas and closed-door testimony may make it feel as if the Russia inquiries have been going on forever, but Mueller has been on the job only about 41⁄ months, and the three 2 congressional committees conducting inquiries didn’t really start digging until spring.
That’s not long when you consider that the Watergate investigation of President Nixon took about 20 months — considered relatively fast — and the Whitewater investigation of Bill Clinton, which morphed into the Monica Lewinsky investigation, spanned about five years.
“The public and the press have always been impatient about how quickly these types of investigations are moving, but they have gotten more so,” said Charles Tiefer, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and the special deputy chief counsel for the House Iran-Contra Committee’s investigation of the Reagan administration in the 1980s. “The 24-hour news cycle means that speculation outruns the actual investigation and demands responses.”
Tiefer estimated it could take Congress until spring and Mueller about a year to begin to show results, such as preliminary reports from the committees or the first round of indictments from the special counsel.
The special counsel, the Senate and House Intelligence committees and the Senate Judiciary Committee are all investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
“They have difficult obstacles
to overcome,” Tiefer said. Among them: persuading reluctant witnesses to cooperate, obtaining scores of documents from inside the U.S. and Russia, and trying to get one of the targets to break ranks and become a witness for the prosecution.
Attorney Richard Ben-Veniste, an assistant special prosecutor in the office of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force and chief minority counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee, said the Russia investigation and Watergate are “roughly comparable in terms of the complexity.”
“Judged by other investigations and given the breadth of this one, I don’t think the public should be too expectant, but rather appreciate the complexity ... and scope of the areas that both Mueller and congressional investigators are charged with looking into,” BenVeniste said.
Bruce Udolf, a criminal defense attorney in Florida who was an associate independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation, said he believes Mueller is “moving at lightning speed” in putting together a team of investigators and questioning witnesses.
Mueller is dealing with complicated issues of possible money laundering and obstruction of justice, with witnesses and evidence scattered across the globe, Udolf said.
“Of necessity, it’s going to take a very long time,” he said. “I would be surprised if it was completed in less than a year.”
It’s more important that an investigation be thorough than fast, Udolf said: “You turn over one stone, and it leads you down another path. And you’re dealing with people who are trying to prevent you from doing your job, which is getting to the truth.”
Lanny Davis, an attorney who specializes in crisis management and a former spokesman and special counsel for President Clinton, said no one wants these kinds of investigations over faster than an innocent target.
Davis said the best thing an attorney with an innocent client
“The public and the press have always been impatient. ... The 24-hour news cycle means that speculation outruns the actual investigation and demands responses.” Charles Tiefer, special deputy chief counsel for the House Iran-Contra Committee’s investigation of the Reagan administration in the 1980s
can do is cooperate with prosecutors and congressional investigators to help speed up the process.
“You have to do the opposite of what you’re taught to do as a private lawyer, which is to resist and drag things out,” Davis said. “In this situation, if investigators don’t ask for something, you offer it anyway. You drown them with paper, facts and transparency.”
It can be difficult, however, for attorneys to convince their clients that this strategy is the best way to go. Often, Davis said, a client’s initial reaction will be: “What, are you kidding me? Whose side are you on?”
“You have to convince them that the way to end the investigation is to help investigators, not stop them,” he said.
But when an attorney has a client who may be guilty, that strategy must change, Davis said. He said the response still can’t be “resist, resist, resist” because that could end up getting a client charged with obstruction.
“You still have to cooperate,” he said. “But you don’t open the kimono and say come on in.”
Former senator Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat who was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee from 2001 to 2003, is urging Congress to complete its inquiries well before the midterm elections in November 2018.
“I think there needs to be a real sense of urgency by Congress,” Graham said. “There could be another round of Russian meddling. They need to get to the bottom of what happened and prevent it from happening again.”
Sens. Mark Warner and Richard Burr prepare to hear Russia testimony in June.