Mueller's long gone from government, but his proteges are finding top spots in the Biden Justice Department
- Lisa Monaco is among the former aides of Robert Mueller joining the Biden-era Justice Department.
- Matt Olsen, an Uber lawyer and ex-Mueller aide, is a top candidate to lead DOJ’s national security division.
- Only one member of the special counsel’s office has joined the Biden administration so far.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Robert Mueller has receded from the headlines since overseeing the Russia investigation, but his proteges are positioned to steer the Justice Department through the Biden administration as it seeks to shed the political turmoil of the Trump era.
On Tuesday, the Senate is expected to confirm Lisa Monaco, who served as Mueller’s top aide during his tenure leading the FBI, as deputy attorney general. In that second-ranking Justice Department role, Monaco would draw from an extensive background in national security as DOJ confronts foreign espionage and cybersecurity threats while pivoting to prioritize domestic extremism in the aftermath of the deadly January 6 rioting at the Capitol.
Monaco’s confirmation would reunite her with another onetime Mueller aide, John Carlin, who has served since the beginning of the Biden administration as the acting deputy attorney general.
Carlin led the Justice Department’s national security division under the Obama administration and is now set to become Monaco’s top aide upon her confirmation. Early in Obama’s second term, Monaco pushed for Carlin to lead DOJ’s national security and prevailed in a power struggle over then-Attorney General Eric Holder, who wanted the role filled by Amy Jeffress, a former top national security prosecutor in the US attorney’s office Washington.
Almost a decade later, Monaco and Carlin’s top roles underscore how Mueller, as the longest-serving FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover, served as a critical way station for officials climbing up the national security side of the Justice Department. And they speak to the enduring strength of the Mueller network on the heels of the Trump presidency, in which the former FBI director spent two years as the special counsel overseeing a politically-charged investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
“Throughout his career, Mueller set the example in the Justice Department for devotion to duty and independence, and we’re now seeing the next generation of Justice Department leaders like Lisa following that example,” said Ken Wainstein, a partner at Davis, Polk & Wardwell who served under the George W. Bush administration as a White House homeland security advisor and head of the Justice Department’s national security division.
“That’s a good thing for justice and a good thing for the country.”
The Uber lawyer
Carlin and Monaco could soon be joined at the Justice Department by another former aide from Mueller’s FBI tenure.
In recent weeks, Matt Olsen, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, has emerged as a leading contender for the nomination to helm the Justice Department’s national security division, according to two people familiar with the Biden administration’s search. The division has played a significant role in the investigation into the January 6 rioting at the US Capitol, and it is expected to figure prominently in the Justice Department’s efforts to prevent and prosecute violence by domestic extremists.
“The Department of Justice is pouring its resources into stopping domestic violent extremists before they can attack, prosecuting those who do, and battling the spread of the kind of hate that leads to tragedies like the one we mark today,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Monday, marking the 26th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.
As a top aide to Mueller from 2004 to 2005, Olsen helped establish the FBI’s national security branch. Olsen went on to serve as a top official in the Justice Department’s national security division from its creation in 2006. In that role, he oversaw the creation of an oversight section responsible for reviewing the FBI’s national security investigations, an experience that could come into play as the Justice Department addresses the FBI’s “serious performance failures” in seeking surveillance warrants against a former Trump campaign aide during the Russia investigation.
Under the Obama administration, Holder appointed him to lead a task force for evaluating detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Olsen went on to serve as the general counsel of the National Security Agency.
In 2018, Olsen joined Uber as the chief trust and security officer responsible for overseeing the ride-sharing company’s cybersecurity, corporate investigations and engagement with law enforcement. Olsen has also lectured at Harvard Law School since 2014.
A DOJ spokesman did not respond to a request for comment about Olsen’s possible appointment inside the Biden administration.
The ‘angry Democrats’
The pipeline into the Biden administration has proven tighter for the team that worked under Mueller in the Russia investigation.
Trump condemned the special counsel investigation throughout his administration as a partisan “witch hunt,” characterizing Mueller’s team as full of “angry Democrats.”
By the end of the investigation, Democrats were left disappointed by a more than 400-page report that, while damaging to Trump, did not directly accuse the former president of a crime. After resisting calls for his testimony, Mueller then appeared before Congress and left Democrats deflated with monosyllabic answers and requests for lawmakers to repeat their questions, in a reluctant performance that was seen as falling flat.
Biden’s election raised speculation within the legal community about whether his administration would welcome alumni of the Mueller investigation or view them as politically radioactive, seeing their roles in the Russia investigation as something of a scarlet letter. Also, some members of Mueller’s team had gone into private practice following the investigation and were seen as unlikely to leave their law firms within just years of arriving.
So far only one member of Mueller’s special counsel office, Elizabeth Prelogar, has made the jump into the Biden administration.
Prelogar, who joined Mueller’s team in 2017 as a legal advisor, left the law firm Cooley LLP in January to serve as the acting solicitor general—a role that makes her the Justice Department’s chief advocate before the Supreme Court. A former clerk for Justice Elena Kagan and the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Prelogar had previously worked in the solicitor general’s office.
As the Biden administration assembled beachhead teams to fill federal agencies, she benefited from having kept a low profile on Mueller’s team and having clerked for Garland during his tenure on the powerful federal appeals court in Washington. Her role also did not require confirmation by the Senate.
Axel Springer, Insider Inc.’s parent company, is an investor in Uber.
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