The ink was still drying on special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment papers when his chief deputy, the famously aggressive and occasionally controversial prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, made a bold but secret overture in early June 2017.
Weissmann quietly reached out to the American lawyers for Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash with a tempting offer: Give us some dirt on Donald Trump in the Russia case, and Team Mueller might make his 2014 U.S. criminal charges go away.
The specifics of the never-before-reported offer were confirmed to me by multiple sources with direct knowledge, as well as in contemporaneous defense memos I read.
Two years later, Weissmann’s overture may have far-reaching consequences for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), here and abroad. His former boss, Mueller, is slated to testify Wednesday before Congress.
The DOJ, Mueller’s office and Weissmann did not immediately respond to emails requesting comment on Monday.
At first blush, one might ask, “What’s the big deal?” It’s not unusual for federal prosecutors to steal a page from Monty Hall’s “Let’s Make a Deal” script during plea negotiations.
But Weissmann’s overture was wrapped with complexity and intrigue far beyond the normal federal case, my sources indicate.
At the time, pressure was building inside the DOJ and the FBI to find smoking-gun evidence against Trump in the Russia case because the Steele dossier — upon which the early surveillance warrants were based — was turning out to be an uncorroborated mess. (“There’s no big there there,” lead FBI agent Pete Strzok texted a few days before Weissmann’s overture.)
Likewise, key evidence that the DOJ used to indict Firtash on corruption charges in 2014 was falling apart. Two central witnesses were in the process of recanting testimony, and a document the FBI portrayed as bribery evidence inside Firtash’s company was exposed as a hypothetical slide from an American consultant’s PowerPoint presentation, according to court records I reviewed.
In other words, the DOJ faced potential embarrassment in two high-profile cases when Weissmann made an unsolicited approach on June 4, 2017, that surprised even Firtash’s U.S. legal team.