Dozens of sealed federal indictments added to the federal court docket this year — 14 of which were added just since August — have legal experts wondering if special counsel Robert Mueller is sitting on charges currently unknown to the public.
ABC News reported Friday that the number of sealed indictments presently awaiting action is unusual, according to several legal experts.
> And the inadvertent discovery on Thursday night of what appear to be secret charges pending againstWikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has drawn fresh attention to the mystery. Legal experts told ABC News that the sealed cases could be tied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possibly part of a quiet effort to protect his investigation from any premature effort to shut it down.
> “I assume that Mueller knew that once the election was over, there could be an existential threat to his investigation,” said Matthew Miller, a former senior Justice official under former Attorney General Eric Holder. “He knew the best thing to do was act before that.”
Mueller can only bring indictments with approval from the attorney general, which in this case would have fallen to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein due to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation.
President Donald Trump made relatively clear he would likely replace Sessions after the midterm elections, meaning approval for indictments would no longer fall to Rosenstein — and potentially to an attorney general less inclined to approve them.
> The day after the elections, Trump appointed acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who has previously denounced the Mueller probe. A Justice Department spokeswoman said this week that Whitaker “is fully committed to following all appropriate processes and procedures at the Department of Justice, including consulting with senior ethics officials on his oversight responsibilities and matters that may warrant recusal.”
> “You can’t prevent a new AG from blocking new indictments,” Miller said. “But if you were ready to move on cases, you could return a bunch of indictments under seal. If the stumbling block is approval from Mueller’s supervisors, you get that approval while you still have a supervisor who approves of your work.”