An attorney working on the Justice Department’s highest-profile money laundering case recently transferred off that assignment in order to join the staff of the special prosecutor investigating the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia, POLITICO has learned.
Attorney Kyle Freeny was among the prosecutors on hand Friday as a spokesman for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Jason Maloni, testified before a grand jury at federal court in Washington.
Freeny, whose assignment to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s staff has not been previously reported, is the 17th lawyer known to be working with the former FBI chief on the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. She departed from the courthouse Friday with two other members of Mueller’s squad: former Criminal Division chief and Enron prosecutor Andrew Weissman and Civil Division appellate attorney Adam Jed, a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
Before being detailed to Mueller’s team, Freeny was shepherding the Justice Department’s headline-grabbing effort to seize the profits from the film “The Wolf of Wall Street” on grounds that the film was financed with assets looted from the Malaysian government.
Freeny withdrew from the “Wolf of Wall Street” case on June 26, court records show, shortly before many of Mueller’s attorneys joined his team in early July.
Lawyers for the production company behind the film, Red Granite Pictures, said in a court filing in Los Angeles Friday that they’ve reached a settlement with prosecutors. A Justice Department spokesperson said he was aware of the filing, but declined to comment.
Freeny’s work on the movie-related case and the Manafort aspect of the Trump-Russia probe appear to have some commonalities
The Justice Department billed the “Wolf of Wall Street” case as a product of the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, an effort to pursue the proceeds of foreign corruption and return such monies to the public in the affected countries.
Justice Department officials including former Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the same kleptocracy project is probing the transfer of assets overseas by Ukrainian officials, including former President Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort served as a consultant to Yanukovych and his Party of Regions — work that has triggered suspicions about the former Trump campaign chief because of Yanukovych’s warm relationship with Moscow.
A Manafort firm belatedly filed a report in June with U.S. authorities disclosing about $17 million in payments from the Party of Regions between 2012 and 2014.
Manafort has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crime. However, in July, FBI agents executed an early-morning search warrant at his Alexandria, Va. condominium.
A spokesman for Mueller’s office confirmed Freeny is part of the staff, but he declined to elaborate on her role or what took place at the courthouse Friday.
Before joining Justice’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section last year, Freeny drew scrutiny and criticism for her role as one of the federal government’s key lawyers defending a lawsuit in which Texas and 25 other states challenged President Barack Obama’s 2014 executive actions on immigration.
U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen blasted the government’s attorneys, including Freeny, for misleading him at the outset of the litigation by declaring that none of the changes Obama ordered had taken effect. In fact, some had.
“The misconduct in this case was intentional, serious and material,” Hanen wrote last May. “In fact, it is hard to imagine a more serious, more calculated plan of unethical conduct.”
The Justice Department apologized for any misunderstanding, but insisted it was unintentional. Justice lawyers also argued that the judge had a memo in the court file at the time showing that one aspect of Obama’s directive was already underway.
Hanen was so exercised about the episode that he sought to order three-hours of ethics training for all Washington-based Justice Department attorneys who appear in courts in the 26 states involved in the immigration-related case. Justice countered by adding an additional hour of annual ethics training for its Civil Division lawyers.
In January, Hanen backed down, saying he accepted that the comments he regarded as misleading were “unintentional.” The lawyers involved “acted with no intent to deceive the other parties or the Court,” the Brownsville, Texas-based, George W. Bush appointee wrote, as he dropped his plans to impose sanctions on the government and on individual lawyers not specified in public court filings.
Freeny, a Maryland native, is a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School. An Arabic speaker, she taught kindergarten for a time in Egypt before getting her law degree.
Freeny began work at the Justice Department in 2007. She also did a stint in President Barack Obama’s White House in 2011, vetting potential appointees.