Chicago attorney Renato Mariotti uses Twitter to explain Trump-Russia – Law News

on Sep26

26 September 2017 | 10:30 am

The dizzying developments unfolding in the Trump-Russia investigation can be hard to keep up with. A Chicago attorney and former federal prosecutor is using Twitter to try and change that.

Renato Mariotti, a partner at Thompson Coburn, started posting regularly to his Twitter account four months ago, building up a following from 76 people to more than 40,000 since then. His followers—including former President Bill Clinton, who last week called Mariotti to compliment his work—closely track his analyses on Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel scrutinizing President Donald Trump and his family.

Crain’s talked with Mariotti, 41, about the latest developments from Mueller, how his law firm feels about him tweeting and what he thinks of Twitter as a platform to analyze Trump and Russia.

Crain’s: How long have you been using Twitter?

Mariotti: I created a Twitter account shortly after leaving the government at the end of June of last year, but I didn’t actively tweet until May of this year.

You’re getting close to 41,000 followers now. There are other attorneys and ex-prosecutors who also use Twitter, of course, but you tend to use long threads to break down the legal implications of Mueller’s work.

It has filled a need that people have—there are thousands of people who are worried about what’s happening in their country. And without expertise and experience with these sort of criminal investigations, it’s hard to understand them.

Why did you think Twitter could be a good platform for legal analysis on Mueller’s investigation?

I appeared on “Chicago Tonight” when former FBI Director James Comey was fired in May, and when that happened, I started getting some interest from other media outlets. At the time, I didn’t think of it as much more than giving commentary in small snippets. A journalist I knew asked me why I wasn’t on Twitter, and suggested that I live-tweet about Comey’s testimony. I had very few followers at the time, and I didn’t really know how to use Twitter. Organizing my thoughts into threads was not something I had developed at first.

You’ve used Twitter to make a bit of a name for yourself and put yourself out there—as your following has grown, you’ve appeared regularly on CNN, MSNBC and other networks as a Trump-Russia expert.

What it’s evolved to now is that I proactively analyze the stories of the day—usually the Russia investigation, but other stories as well. I try to analyze legal topics. I think that journalists do speak to other former prosecutors. But I think that there are also reasons why other ex-prosecutors don’t really do what I do. I think that many of my counterparts now—former federal prosecutors—would regard what I’m doing as risky.

Why would they think it’s risky?

I think people who are successful lawyers tend to be very cautious about making any statements. It was not a conscious decision for me to turn using Twitter into something that in many ways defined how I appeared to people in the public.

And your law firm, Thompson Coburn, is OK with the tweeting? Some law firms are likely skeptical of social media and its perceived downsides.

They were not as concerned as other law firms might be. I think that if I were at another law firm, I would not be able to do what I’ve been doing. Lawyers tend to be cautious people—that’s why they became lawyers and not entrepreneurs (laughs). It also is a reason they tend not to talk publicly. And when they do speak to journalists, they tend to speak with lots of wiggle room and careful phrasing that makes their statements difficult for an ordinary person to make sense of.

Given how polarized we are in the U.S., can you explain Trump-Russia in a way that makes sense to all readers, no matter what their views are of Trump or the investigation? At what point is the latest breakthrough something that changes the investigation?

There are really two different things that are going on.

One is that Congress and, to an extent, Robert Mueller are investigating what the Russians did to undermine our elections. And that investigation, no matter what your partisan views, should be important to you as an American. Because we all want our voting systems to be protected from foreign countries who might want to interfere with us.

Second, there is a criminal investigation that Mueller is heading up. That investigation is about very specific crimes that many different people may have committed. We don’t know yet who will be charged out of that investigation. The only news that has broken is that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort will be charged. All of us should wait and see what develops from that investigation, because federal investigations take a long time to complete.

Many of your anti-Trump followers seem to be looking for a smoking gun, something simple that gets Trump in trouble, while other replies to you seem to be grateful to have a legal explanation of what’s happening.

I’ve received immense support from people across the country—messages, phone calls, Twitter replies, direct messages, all sorts of communications from people all the time expressing their appreciation. A bunch of them tried to draft me to run for attorney general.

That’s funny and random. Would you be interested?

I have not made a decision. One important message that I’ve tried to give all of them is that the criminal justice system has limits. The purpose of the criminal justice system is to investigate specific crimes. The only problems that the criminal justice system can solve are people who have committed serious crimes for which there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that they have committed those crimes.

And speaking as a former federal prosecutor, it is more challenging than people realize to prove someone’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, particularly when you’re talking about complex white-collar crimes that are not necessarily caught on tape. So one thing that I’ve tried to prepare all these people for is that they should not count on one man, Robert Mueller, to change America for them. If they put all of their eggs into Robert Mueller’s basket, they will be very disappointed.

You’ve ventured into the wilds of Twitter, where insults fly just as much as positive feedback. Have you gotten any?

(Laughs) I had one person suggest that I had gotten my law degree from the University of Phoenix. I had somebody tell me I was an “armchair lawyer.” But I will say that the people who’ve taken the time to email me, instead of tweeting at me, about why they disagree with me have really taken the time to engage with me and convince me that they know more than I do and therefore my conclusions are invalid. So something like, “Robert Mueller isn’t really looking at the obstruction of justice case” or something.

I actually have more people disagree with me on the left than on the right. A number of people on the left have criticized me for being (what they perceive as a) “Trump supporter” or whatever because a lot of my message is just that Mueller may not indict and convict everyone under the sun.

I’m not really a target for people on the right because, compared to the people out there who say things like, “Oh, the president is definitely going to be impeached,” I’m pretty careful and balanced in my analysis. The things that I’m saying are hard to disagree with in terms of what I’m drawing as fairly straightforward analyses.

There are quite a few rabidly anti-Trump Twitter accounts analyzing the Mueller investigation, many of which seem to spread misinformation—and sometimes conspiracy theories—about who from the Trump administration is in trouble.

I’m not going to call out anyone in particular. But there are many people on Twitter who are trying to analyze what is happening in the Mueller investigation. Many of them are lawyers. And I find I strongly disagree with many of their conclusions and speculation, and I think a lot of it is irresponsible. I don’t engage in or try to pick fights with those people because I don’t think it’s productive. I don’t think people are interested in hearing me debate another person, another lawyer, who has come up with a contrary view of things. So I try to do my own thing in my own lane and hope that over time people will realize that what they’re hearing from a different lane is not supported by evidence and is not a reasonable conclusion to draw from the facts that we know.

I feel that those people mislead the public and create false hopes among some of the folks you were asking about earlier, which is why, as I mentioned, I think the most important thing that I try to do is give people a grounding in the realities of our system so that they have realistic expectations about the outcome of the investigation.

This interview has been edited and condensed.



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