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6 Things That Calendars From the Special Counsel’s Office Tell Us

The New York Times logo The New York Times 5 days ago Michael S. Schmidt, Adam Goldman and Noah Weiland
a man in a suit standing in front of a building: The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was appointed in May 2017 and quickly began assembling a team. © Al Drago/Associated Press The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was appointed in May 2017 and quickly began assembling a team.

WASHINGTON — The office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was shrouded in secrecy. But details are seeping out now that the investigation is over, and more were revealed on Tuesday in dozens of pages of calendars and a few text messages from one of Mr. Mueller’s top prosecutors, Andrew Weissmann. The conservative group Judicial Watch, which has sought to undermine the inquiry, obtained the calendars through the Freedom of Information Act and released them, claiming the calendars show how Mr. Weissmann was determined to build a team of Democrats to investigate Mr. Trump. There is no evidence of that. But the calendars do offer a look at the prosecutors’ daily lives in one of the most high-profile federal investigations in American history.

[Read the calendars here.]

Assembling the team

Mr. Mueller had to hire quickly, and he delegated the responsibility to Mr. Weissmann, one of his earliest and most senior hires. Some candidates were interviewed by phone, according to Mr. Weissmann’s schedules, and some traveled to Washington to meet with him and another of Mr. Mueller’s senior deputies, Jeannie Rhee. On the calendars, only the names of some prosecutors hired are shown: Andrew D. Goldstein, Lawrence Atkinson, Kyle Freeny and Greg D. Andres. As the team took shape, the office held a meet-and-greet.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Aaron Zebley, right, served as a top lieutenant to Mr. Mueller. James L. Quarles III, left, was the special counsel’s main contact with the White House. © Tom Brenner for The New York Times Aaron Zebley, right, served as a top lieutenant to Mr. Mueller. James L. Quarles III, left, was the special counsel’s main contact with the White House.

[Meet the special counsel’s prosecutors]

The emergence of Mueller’s longtime right-hand man

Mr. Mueller’s longtime aide Aaron M. Zebley functioned as a kind of steward or superintendent of the investigation. A former counterterrorism agent and Mr. Mueller’s chief of staff when he was the F.B.I. director, Mr. Zebley was one of Mr. Mueller’s first hires. The two kept offices next to each other at WilmerHale, the law firm where they worked as partners in the years leading up to the Russia investigation, and even wear the same kind of pinstripe suits and Casio watches.

Behind the scenes, Mr. Zebley had a direct hand in briefing senior Justice Department officials on the investigation. In Mr. Weissmann’s calendars, Mr. Zebley’s initials appear 111 times and are marked next to dozens of meetings, suggesting he may have taken the lead in running them. The entries include the office’s team meetings and preparations for grand jury appearances.

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The team also held a daily “ops” meeting at 5 p.m. in what they called the Sequoia Room. (The other meeting rooms were Elm and Maple.) The routine was similar to Mr. Mueller’s time at the F.B.I., when he gathered senior aides for “closeout” meetings at the end of the day, according to Matthew G. Olsen, who worked as special counsel to Mr. Mueller there.

‘Difficult issues’ early on

One of the ensuing controversies of the Mueller report stems from investigators’ decision not to make a determination about whether President Trump obstructed justice, citing “difficult issues” of law and fact surrounding the question. As early as four months into the investigation, the calendars show, the team may have already been grappling with those difficulties. On Sept. 14, 2017, the investigators met to discuss “law issues” in the Maple conference room. The calendars provide no indication of what issues were discussed.

An early interest in foreign influence

Mr. Mueller’s investigation exposed the culture in Washington of lobbying on behalf of foreign governments for big paydays. Early on, his investigators seized on a law rarely used and long viewed as toothless — the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, which requires anyone working to advance a foreign government’s interests to register with the Justice Department. Mr. Mueller’s team, as well as other federal law enforcement officials, pursued numerous FARA cases. And the calendars show the special counsel’s investigators were interested early on: On Day 2 of the entries — June 6, 2017 — Mr. Weissmann had a “meeting with FARA counsel.”

Work. Work. Work.

According to the calendars, the team worked a lot. Weekend meetings and calls are scattered throughout. Holiday meetings are as well — including two on the Fourth of July — but those could be the byproduct of digital calendars that schedule weekly meetings in perpetuity without taking holidays into account, rather than actual meetings. A spokesman for the special counsel did not say whether individual meetings took place.

Office snacks

Like office drones throughout the government and corporate America, the special counsel’s team regularly held small celebrations. Early on, in August 2017, investigators marked August birthdays with “goodies at the table” near the desk of Peter Carr, the special counsel’s spokesman. Days before the Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates were indicted in October 2017, a farewell party for a colleague was scheduled at the same time as the regular Team Manafort Meeting. The office had a “Progressive Potluck Holiday Party” that December.

Other calendar entries: “Let’s eat cake” for birthdays in January 2018, a spring fling potluck that April, and a joint Marine Corps birthday and Veterans Day celebration in November 2017. (Mr. Mueller is a decorated Marine Corps veteran.)

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