Andrew Weissman.
Andrew Weissman. (Courtesy photo)

Dan Cogdell, a leading criminal defense lawyer in Houston, had a simple reaction when reports emerged this week that the president was considering firing Russia special counsel Robert Mueller.

“Trump trying to fire Mueller is a dumber idea than a bucket of hair,” Cogdell said.

But Cogdell also wants to put the brakes on the characterizations by Trump’s surrogates about a former adversary: Andrew Weissmann, who led the Enron task force prosecution and whom Mueller has picked to assist in probing the Trump campaign’s Russia ties. Cogdell squared off against Weissmann while defending former Enron executives, including Sheila Kahanek, one of the few indicted Enron executives who won an acquittal at trial.

Earlier this month, Sidney Powell, a former assistant U.S. attorney who published a book in 2014 about alleged corruption at the Department of Justice, wrote an op-ed arguing that Weissmann’s Enron team “quickly devolved into a cabal that used mob tactics itself.” The article helped seed the current conservative attacks on Mueller.

Cogdell acknowledged that Weissmann is tough. “Andrew was the most aggressive … prosecutor I’ve ever encountered,” Cogdell said. “Once he has bit in teeth into something, it’s hard to rein him back.”

But should Weissmann be kicked off Mueller’s team or Mueller fired for picking Weissmann?

No, Cogdell said definitively. Weissmann never crossed over ethical lines that would justify not allowing him on Mueller’s team, he said.

He also gave Mueller’s team of prosecutors a backhanded compliment. “I’m not saying they are rabid dogs that are infected,” he said, adding a warning: “I am saying anybody who jumps the fence is going to get bit and bit hard.”

During the Enron trials, Cogdell recalled one instance when he literally wagged his finger at Weissmann after prosecutors delivered closing arguments to a jury.

“In my opinion, Weissmann had scripted a certain portion of the closing, and it included a misquote,” Cogdell said.

Weissmann did not respond to a request for comment left with the Department of Justice press office. Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller’s office, wrote in an email: “We have yet to confirm the names of any of the lawyers who have joined the Special Counsel’s Office, and we will decline to comment on the reports and criticisms.”

Cogdell said his former client, Kahanek, had initially served as a witness for the Enron prosecutors. She got her first taste of Weissmann’s aggressive nature when they wanted to interview her a second time for an additional investigation related to Enron. The request prompted her to ask Weissmann if she might be a target this time, and if she needed counsel. Weissmann discouraged her from hiring counsel, Cogdell recalled. She hired Cogdell anyway. “It wasn’t too long after that she got indicted,” Cogdell said.

For the president and his associates, Cogdell reiterated his warning: “It doesn’t get any more serious than the allegations they are investigating, and these guys don’t back down. Weissmann will be undeterred. This is the Trump’s administration’s worst nightmare.”

Not everyone among the Enron defense alumni are coming forward to defend Weissmann. John Keker of Keker, Van Nest & Peters, who represented former Enron CFO Andrew Fastow, wrote in an email: “I don’t want to weigh in on the controversy being generated by Trump supporters about Andrew Weissmann.”

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