Andrew D. Goldstein is one of Robert Mueller’s lead prosecutors in the obstruction of justice investigation of the president.CreditTom Brenner for The New York Times
By Noah Weiland and Michael S. Schmidt – The New York times
WASHINGTON — The routine was always the same. President Trump’s lawyers would drive to heavily secured offices near the National Mall, surrender their cellphones, head into a windowless conference room and resume tense negotiations over whether the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, would interview Mr. Trump.
But Mr. Mueller was not always there. Instead, the lawyers tangled with a team of prosecutors, including a little known but formidable adversary: Andrew D. Goldstein, 44, a former Time magazine reporter who is now a lead prosecutor for Mr. Mueller in the investigation into whether the president obstructed justice.
Mr. Mueller is often portrayed as the omnipotent fact-gatherer, but it is Mr. Goldstein who has a much more involved, day-to-day role in one of the central lines of investigation.
Mr. Goldstein, the lone prosecutor in Mr. Mueller’s office who came directly from a corruption unit at the Justice Department, has conducted every major interview of the president’s advisers. He questioned Donald F. McGahn II, Mr. Trump’s former White House counsel, and Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former fixer and lawyer, for dozens of hours. He signed Mr. Cohen’s plea agreement. He conducted grand jury questioning of associates of Roger J. Stone Jr., the former adviser to Mr. Trump who was indicted last month.
And he was one of two prosecutors who relayed to the president’s lawyers dozens of questions about Mr. Trump’s behavior in office that Mr. Mueller wanted the president to answer under oath. The questions showed the Mueller team’s hand for the first time: extensive, detailed lines of inquiry that could imperil the presidency.
“He knew the facts like I knew the facts,” John Dowd, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer, said of Mr. Goldstein.
Over the past two years, Mr. Trump has waged a regular assault on prosecutors and other law enforcement officials investigating him, particularly on Mr. Mueller’s team. But mounting a high-level criminal case on obstruction is rare and complex, and even more difficult when the subject is a sitting president.
Now that Mr. Mueller is expected to deliver his report in the coming weeks, Mr. Goldstein’s past as a prosecutor offers a glimpse into how he might be helping the special counsel make a final determination.
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Over the past two years, President Trump has waged a regular assault on prosecutors and other law enforcement officials investigating him, particularly those on Mr. Mueller’s team.CreditSarah Silbiger/The New York Times
Interviews with Mr. Goldstein’s colleagues and friends and an examination of his past work reveal someone profoundly at odds with the cowboylike image Mr. Trump has painted of Mr. Mueller’s team. He is one of the few in the group with a career outside the law — in addition to working for Time, Mr. Goldstein was a high school teacher — and is known for his nonconfrontational personality and cautious approach to prosecutions.
Before Mr. Mueller hired him, Mr. Goldstein, the son of a former Republican United States attorney, led the corruption unit in the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan as the office made a highly unusual call to announce that it had declined to charge Mayor Bill de Blasio with a variety of crimes. The decision revealed how restrained high-level prosecutors often are in major political investigations.
“Investigating and prosecuting public corruption offenses can only go so far,” Mr. Goldstein said in a rare speech around the time he joined the special counsel’s team in 2017. “We can only police the outer bounds of misconduct: the really bad stuff, or at least the stuff that we can prove.”
Investigating the President
From the beginning, the byzantine structure of the Mueller investigation split its dozen-plus prosecutors into silos and specialties: money laundering, hacking, national security and public corruption.
Starting in the summer of 2017, when Mr. Trump’s closest White House advisers were summoned to Mr. Mueller’s offices, they typically met the same calm stare and gravelly voice of the man his former high school students still call Mr. Goldstein.
With James L. Quarles III, a former prosecutor in the Watergate investigation, Mr. Goldstein has led the office’s investigation into whether the president’s dismissal of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey — and Mr. Trump’s repeated assaults on the Justice Department — should be considered obstruction of justice.
He has tried to determine the president’s motives in Mr. Comey’s firing during dozens of hours questioning Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, and nearly seven hours with Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, in April.
As evidence built over two years, Mr. Goldstein functioned as a repository of conversations that Mr. Trump had with lawyers, advisers and top law enforcement officials from early 2017 on. Among Mr. Goldstein’s jewels, according to Mr. Trump’s lawyers: exhaustive notes taken by Annie Donaldson, Mr. McGahn’s former chief of staff, which detailed in real time Mr. Trump’s behavior in the West Wing.
Defense lawyers who worked with Mr. Mueller also say that Mr. Goldstein — a donor to President Barack Obama’s campaigns — is the temperamental opposite of prosecutors on the team like Andrew Weissmann, known for a more hostile disposition. When tensions flared during witness interviews, lawyers would take Mr. Goldstein aside to soothe disputes.
That did not mean Mr. Goldstein’s work was seamless: While the president’s legal team was initially cooperative with Mr. Goldstein and his fellow investigators, delivering key witnesses and millions of documents, the mood changed when Mr. Trump brought on the longtime Washington lawyer Emmet T. Flood.
Mr. Flood promptly imposed restrictions on the West Wing’s participation, including limits to questions for the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly.
Mr. Goldstein acknowledged to associates that Mr. Flood made his life more difficult.
‘He Was Very Much Measure 10 Times, Cut Once’
Just before Mr. Mueller and some of his earliest hires brought Mr. Goldstein to Washington for job interviews, Mr. Goldstein and the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan faced a political investigation with familiar parallels to Mr. Mueller’s inquiry.
Mr. Goldstein was leading a team of prosecutors under Preet Bharara, then the United States attorney in Manhattan, who were investigating whether Mr. de Blasio had committed a series of corruption crimes: bribery, pay-to-play and campaign fraud.
Part of the investigation focused on the owner of a scented, rat-repelling trash bag company in Queens who had donated $100,000 to a political advocacy group run by allies of Mr. de Blasio. The owner met with Mr. de Blasio himself, then an aide who set up a meeting between the owner of the company and officials with the city’s parks department. Within a month, he had a $15,000 contract.
Mr. Goldstein’s team churned out pages of analysis on evidence they had gathered on at least four different threads. He would take their work to Mr. Bharara in regular meetings, trying to determine if there was sufficient evidence.
The office made a highly unusual decision to release a public statement explaining why Mr. de Blasio would not be charged, citing “the high burden of proof” and the “difficulty in proving criminal intent in corruption schemes where there is no evidence of personal profit.”
“He was very much measure 10 times, cut once,” said Kan M. Nawaday, a prosecutor who worked with Mr. Goldstein in the corruption unit. “Nine times out of 10, you do a lot of investigation, and you realize the conduct is pretty terrible and foul. But since you’re here to do justice, it isn’t a crime, and you walk away.”
Mr. Goldstein has also gone out of his way to attack defendants who repeatedly fail to tell the truth. “And why do people lie?” Mr. Goldstein said in a closing argument against Sheldon Silver, the former Democratic speaker of the New York State Assembly, who had covered up illegal payments from a friend seeking favors and was found guilty on all counts. “Why do people hide things? Why do people keep secrets? Because they have something to hide.”
A Life of Anti-Corruption
Mr. Goldstein was born during a campaign fraud trial that his father, Jonathan L. Goldstein, was overseeing as the United States attorney in New Jersey. The birth caused an unexpected recess in the trial as the elder Mr. Goldstein took his wife to the hospital. The event made national news.
As a toddler, Mr. Goldstein accompanied his father, a Republican appointee, to work, until President Jimmy Carter and the attorney general at the time, Griffin B. Bell, pushed the elder Mr. Goldstein to resign, replacing him with a Democrat. Incensed, he talked with his young children at the dinner table about his dismissal, warning of the perils of a politicized Justice Department.
The younger Mr. Goldstein went on to graduate from Princeton and teach government at his high school alma mater, the private Pingry School in Basking Ridge, N.J. He then turned to covering national education policy and medicine at Time magazine, where in 2000 he investigated the deaths of three toddlers in government-funded day care facilities in Tennessee.
Mr. Goldstein filed the article, unsettled that he could not do more. He wanted a career that empowered him to prosecute. By 2005, he had graduated from Yale Law School, and by 2010, he was working for Mr. Bharara, who put him on some of the Southern District of New York’s biggest cases.
Like Mr. Mueller, Mr. Goldstein wears starched white dress shirts to work and prizes secrecy. Mr. Goldstein told a friend, Tim Lear, that Mr. Mueller even complained to his prosecutors about being photographed near Donald Trump Jr. at an airport.
The investigation has been tiring, too. Mr. Goldstein, who used to attend early-morning SoulCycle classes in Manhattan before big trials, got into an accident biking to Mr. Mueller’s offices last year, when he was searching for ways to exercise while working so late.
Now that Mr. Mueller’s work could soon be public, Mr. Goldstein’s record, Mr. Bharara said, is a reminder of what the investigation’s limits might be.
“You want to have people who have had experience not only bringing high-profile cases, but in walking away from them because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “The fact that you have a person who’s comfortable saying there’s nothing here, even though there’s a lot of clamor for it, is exactly the kind of person you want.”
Adam Goldman contributed reporting from Washington, and Ben Protess and Benjamin Weiser from New York.