Justice Department ethics officials concluded that it is “appropriate” for new special counsel Robert Mueller to move forward with investigating Russia and the 2016 election, despite his former law firm’s work that may overlap with his inquiry, a DOJ spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
Mueller’s former firm, WilmerHale, represents at least two of President Donald Trump’s family members who are also White House officials—daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner—as well as former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. But the DOJ has decided that shouldn’t impede Mueller’s probe into Russia’s interference in the election, including allegations of contacts between Trump campaign aides and Moscow.
“Government ethics regulations permit the Department of Justice to authorize an employee to participate in a matter where their former employer represents a party,” Justice spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement that followed several days of media queries about the issue.
“While we cannot confirm or deny the applicability of the regulation to the matters to which Special Counsel Mueller was appointed, we can confirm that the Department ethics experts have reviewed the matters and determined that Mr. Mueller’s participation in the matters assigned to him is appropriate,” she added.
Flores also said ethics rules don’t disqualify Mueller from dealing with inquiries that may involve his firm’s former clients as long as they were not his.
“Mr. Mueller is permitted to participate in matters involving his former firm’s clients so long as he has no confidential information about the client and did not participate in the representation,” Flores said.
Flores did not name Ivanka Trump, Kushner or Manafort, but a WilmerHale official confirmed to POLITICO last week that the firm represents all three.
However, the firm said Mueller had no involvement with the work done for any of the three.
Normally, lawyers entering government are barred for at least a year from matters involving their former firm’s clients. However, agency ethics officials can authorize participation in those matters if doing so is deemed to be in the government’s interest.
Citing anonymous sources, Reuters reported recently that the White House was considering highlighting Mueller’s alleged conflicts in a bid to undermine his credibility.
A White House official who declined to be named referred questions to the Justice Department. “The White House has nothing to do with this process, nor should it,” the official said.