Washington: Over the last nine months, scores of men and women _ some powerful and moneyed, others obscure and struggling _ have crossed paths with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of prosecutors. So far though, just four have been charged.
The rest – a colorful cross-section of people, banks and businesses – are in limbo. Some fear they may yet be charged, but most are witnesses who have had their lives upended by a rush of questions about Turkish and Ukrainian lobbying, efforts to obtain hacked material, interactions with Donald Trump’s campaign and about every imaginable contact they’ve had with Russians.
As Mueller’s inquiry has become hyper-focused on whether the president or people around him sought to obstruct justice, these lesser-known figures face a nagging question: Is Mueller done with them or not?
Sprawling white-collar investigations like Mueller’s nearly always involve a panoply of witnesses whose cooperation helps build cases, subjects whose actions are of interest to agents and actual targets in jeopardy of criminal charges. Nine months into Mueller’s investigation, it remains unclear exactly how many targets remain in the crosshairs or what will become of the people who have been questioned by the government but given no reassurance of whether their involvement in the case has been concluded.
People involved in the case describe bursts of frequent dialogue with Mueller’s team, followed by long stretches of silence, creating uncertainty about where they stand.
Washington criminal defense lawyer Barbara “Biz’’ Van Gelder, who is not involved in the Mueller investigation, said federal probes, by their secretive and expansive nature, can mean months and even years of scrutiny without any resolution.
“If there is a bank robbery, the government’s position is, `I can’t tell who’s an accomplice, who’s a co-conspirator _ it could be the guard, it could be someone standing in the teller line, it could be a lookout,”’ Van Gelder said. “Everyone is put in the subject bucket until they have enough evidence or present enough evidence to get themselves out of the category.”