Connecticut solo practitioner Kristan Peters-Hamlin has tried dozens of cases to verdict, written more than 50 appellate briefs and had more than 40 appellate arguments, according to her online bio.
But in the mid-1990s, she was an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., with none other than Robert Mueller—the man now on the national stage as special counsel heading a federal investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Back when she knew him, Mueller had a reputation for paying attention to details.
“He kept his head down with laser-like focus, and was completely committed to the high principles of the job,” Peters-Hamlin said. “He was the consummate professional.”
Her former colleague was again in the spotlight Wednesday as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned under pressure from President Donald Trump, sparking talk about the president possibly firing Mueller and ending the probe into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with the Russian government.
While many Americans have been following the indictments and plea agreements coming from the Mueller-led investigation from afar, Peters-Hamlin has had a different perspective.
Not only has Peters-Hamlin read most of the indictments cover to cover, she’s also had a front-row view of Mueller at work, having been his colleague from 1994-1996 as an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C.
The pair worked out of an office of about 300 assistant U.S. attorneys. While most of their peers were in their 30s, from Ivy League backgrounds or large law firms, Mueller came to the office with an extensive resume. He was in his early 50s at the time and had already worked in the office of the U.S. attorney in Boston and San Francisco.
“When he started he had far more litigation experience and a higher level of experience than the U.S. attorney himself [Eric Holder],” Peters-Hamlin said Wednesday. “He loved to prosecute cases and that particular office was the busiest in the nation. It was the best U.S Attorney’s Office in the entire nation to get tons of trial experience.”
Mueller, Peters-Hamlin told the Connecticut Law Tribune, epitomized professionalism.
“When I learned he was being appointed as the special prosecutor in this case, I thought there is not a single person in the entire country who would be more skilled and perfect for that role,” she said. “He headed the FBI for 10 years, and he served in three separate U.S. attorney’s offices. He was unique in that he was appointed to positions by two presidents from two different parties.”
But while Peters-Hamlin praises Mueller for his dedication and commitment, there are many—primarily in conservative circles—who have been critical of the Mueller investigation. Some, as Trump has, have called the investigation a “witch hunt,” claiming it’s politically driven, has gone on too long and exceeded its purview.
Among those critics: Matthew Whitaker, who replaced Sessions on Wednesday.
But Peters-Hamlin said when she worked with him, she saw Mueller as “a role model for the entire office because of his professionalism, skill and integrity.” She called last week’s debunked claims of sexual harassment by an unnamed woman “completely inconsistent with the professionalism and gentlemanly demeanor of Bob Mueller. It’s patently obvious that the purpose of that was to smear him.” The charges were leveled against Mueller by a conservative lobbyist and radio host.
“He never had a wandering eye,” Peters-Hamlin said of Mueller, who has been married to his wife Ann for 52 years. “I can’t possibly fathom someone about whom that would be less likely to be true.”
When asked how she would rate the level of Mueller’s investigation on a 1-to-10 scale, with 10 being best, Peters-Hamlin said she’d easily give him the top score.
“From a prosecutorial perspective, it’s the artistic equivalent of a Leonardo Da Vinci,” she said. “He’s a masterful prosecutor.”
Peters-Hamlin added: “If you have read the indictments like I have, it is apparent that there were enormous hurdles to overcome to track and uncover the elaborate Russian scheme to defraud and efforts to hide their tracks. The web is complex, and he has had tremendous success in a relatively short time. The progress he has made in a short period of time, given the obstacles, is extraordinary.”
The Mueller investigation began in May 2017 and has resulted in dozens of indictments for federal crimes and at least eight guilty pleas or convictions.
Discussing the future of Mueller’s investigation, Peters-Hamlin conceded it was possible Trump would fire the special prosecutor. She did say that Mueller, who is a Republican, has “a lot of admirers in the Republican Party,” and that a move to fire him could prompt impeachment hearings by the now-Democratic controlled House of Representatives.
Peters-Hamlin said, “It could possibly invite an impeachment for obstruction.”