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, Virginia, 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 indicating that none of the changes Obama ordered had taken effect. In fact, one major shift, to issue longer work permits, had already begun.
“The misconduct in this case was intentional, serious and material,” Hanen wrote in May 2016. “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 began work at the Justice Department in 2007. She also did a stint in Obama’s White House in 2011, vetting potential appointees.
Campaign finance records show $750 in federal political donations she made: $250 increments to both of Obama’s presidential campaigns and $250 to Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid last year. President Donald Trump and allies have criticized Mueller for building a team that they say is heavy with Democratic partisans. Justice Department officials say they’re forbidden by law to take political giving into account when hiring staff.
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.
One lawyer who was on Mueller’s staff shortly after his May appointment, Lisa Page, returned to her permanent position at the FBI General Counsel’s office a couple of months ago, a spokesman said.
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