FILE - In this June 21, 2017, file photo, special counsel Robert Mueller departs after a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. Mueller is shedding more attorneys. Two prosecutors detailed to the Russia investigation are returning to their duties in other parts of the Justice Department. The moves come after two other attorneys left the team over the summer. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Mueller shedding more attorneys in Russia investigation

October 02, 2018 - 6:07 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Special counsel Robert Mueller is shedding more attorneys.

Two prosecutors detailed to the Russia investigation are returning to their duties in other parts of the Justice Department. The moves come after two other attorneys left the team over the summer.

The departures are the latest indication that Mueller's team is wrapping up parts of the investigation and focusing its efforts on only the most important remaining strands, including an active grand jury probe of longtime Donald Trump associate Roger Stone.

Mueller spokesman Peter Carr says prosecutor Brandon Van Grack has already returned to the Justice Department's national security division but will continue to be involved in cases he was assigned to. That includes the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who is scheduled to be sentenced in December.

Prosecutor Kyle Freeny will end her detail to the special counsel later this month and will return to her position in the Justice Department's money laundering section, Carr said.

Van Grack and Freeny were on the teams prosecuting Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Elements of the Mueller investigation remain active, including inquiries into whether the president took action to obstruct the probe and the central unresolved question of whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 election. Trump's lawyers and Mueller's team have spent months negotiating a possible interview with the president.

But parts of the investigation have been referred to other offices of the Justice Department or largely taken over by them.

Prosecutors in Manhattan, for instance, secured a guilty plea in August from Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, while prosecutors with the U.S. attorney's office in Washington have been assigned to the special counsel's case against 13 Russians charged in a hidden but powerful social media effort to sway American public opinion. The U.S. attorney's office in the District of Columbia also obtained a guilty plea in the case of W. Samuel Patten, who admitted acting as an unregistered foreign agent. That case was referred by Mueller's team.

The latest departures from Mueller's team follow those of two other attorneys earlier this year.

Ryan Dickey, who was detailed to Mueller's office, returned to the Justice Department's criminal division. Dickey, who specializes in computer crime investigations, worked the case against the Internet Research Agency, a Russian social media troll farm, and the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking Democratic groups during the campaign.

Brian Richardson also left Mueller's team. He has since joined the Columbia Law School as a research fellow, school spokeswoman Nancy Goldfarb said.

Richardson was part of a team that prosecuted former Skadden Arps attorney Alex van der Zwaan for lying to the FBI while they were investigating Manafort and others involved in his Ukrainian work. Van der Zwaan was sentenced to 30 days behind bars.

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