Lawfare

10 Things to Hate About Mueller

A short list of very good, serious, totally factual reasons to be suspicious of the special counsel’s motives.

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, special counsel on the Russian investigation, leaves following a meeting with members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on June 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, special counsel on the Russian investigation, leaves following a meeting with members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on June 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s got everyone convinced he’s such an upstanding public servant. In The Threat Matrix, Garrett Graff writes that “both political parties respect” Mueller as “a consummate law enforcement professional with a track record, forged in Vietnam, of grace under fire and getting organizations on track.”

Whatever. Don’t be fooled by Mueller’s Boy Scout act. As his critics point out, if America is never great again, it’ll be all Mueller’s fault. We have to admit, they’ve got some good points.

Here are 10 perfectly reasonable — not at all crazy or imaginary — reasons to hate him:

1. The guy’s a leaker.

Breitbart says so. Sure, Mueller’s got a rep for rarely speaking in public or giving interviews. But behind the scenes he’s obviously spending day and night dishing dirt on Donald Trump and the president’s oh-so-honorable colleagues to any reporter who will listen. The deluge of daily stories disparaging President Trump, after all, began the day Mueller was appointed; before Mueller, Trump press coverage was constant sunshine and rainbows. Plus, it’s clearly to Mueller’s strategic advantage to have his investigative steps aired to the public in real time. Besides, who else would leak this kind of stuff? Only Mueller and his team have motive. The White House isn’t a factionalist den of vipers; the president’s legal team is a well-oiled machine that never leaks; defense lawyers are paragons of virtue. Don’t even get us started on tight-lipped congressional staff — those guys never talk. The only logical explanation here is information about the investigation is coming from Mueller.

2. Mueller is a highly political actor.

Thank God, Newt Gingrich has seen through Mueller’s act. He tweeted recently that “Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair. Look who he is hiring.check fec reports. Time to rethink.” It’s quite a rethink. Mueller is so political that he’s spent his entire career going back and forth between politicians. He worked in the first George H.W. Bush administration as an assistant attorney general, then he was a prosecutor on murder cases in Washington, D.C., after running the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, and then he flip-flopped back to be a U.S. attorney in the Bill Clinton administration. Get this: He then goes on to run the FBI for both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama (a bipartisan Congress even extended his term for two years at Obama’s request). The guy is so political he can’t even decide which side he’s on.

3. Mueller is too thorough and taking too long.

This thing is seriously taking forever. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders spoke for all of us in saying that, “the president is frustrated by the continued witch hunt of the Russia investigation and he’d love for this to come to a full conclusion so that everyone can focus fully on the thing that he was elected to do.” You and me, both, friend. Could Mueller go any slower? It’s as if he’s a highly methodical actor systematically gathering strings on multiple broad areas simultaneously: Trump-Russia collusion, Trump Organization business dealings, misconduct in the Trump campaign, and obstruction of justice. He needs to hurry this thing along. Trump just wants to be cleared without the fuss of an investigation. Wouldn’t you? The president knows he is innocent and only wishes to spare us all the pain of this drawn-out ordeal. Of course, Trump recently told the New York Times that “I’m not under investigation. For what? I didn’t do anything wrong.” It’s completely reasonable of Trump to be frustrated that this investigation — which doesn’t exist — is taking so long and that Mueller is being so thorough about it.

4. Mueller is too aggressive and is moving too fast.

Slow down, buddy. The New York Times reported yesterday that “The moves against Mr. Manafort are just a glimpse of the aggressive tactics used by Mr. Mueller and his team of prosecutors” and their “shock-and-awe tactics.” When Mueller isn’t moving at a glacial pace, he’s being unprecedentedly aggressive. The Times reported clucking in the defense bar:

Some lawyers defending people who have been caught up in Mr. Mueller’s investigation privately complain that the special counsel’s team is unwilling to engage in the usual back-and-forth that precedes — or substitutes for — grand jury testimony. They argue that the team’s more aggressive tactics might end up being counterproductive, especially if some grand jury witnesses turn out to be more guarded than they would have been in a more informal setting or invoke the Fifth Amendment.

This well-meaning concern among defense lawyers for the effectiveness of Mueller’s investigation is touching. When they aren’t overwhelmed with concern Mueller is moving too slowly, they’re worried sick that he’s going too fast for his own good.

5. He’s hiring bad people with conflicts of interest.

Trump warned us that Mueller’s staff comprises “some very bad and conflicted people.” Fact check: True. Some of Mueller’s staff attorneys have indeed committed the iniquitous crime of donating to Democratic candidates. This is what matters. Ignore their famed careers as prosecutors or appellate lawyers. Ignore the Supreme Court clerkships. Mueller’s staff actually are just human embodiments of contributions to Democratic candidates. No previous special prosecutor has ever employed people with political affiliations. We can’t recall any Republicans in sight for Kenneth Starr’s investigation, and Democrats absolutely fled from working for the Watergate special prosecutor and in the Iran-Contra investigation. If Mueller’s team isn’t wearing #MAGA t-shirts to work underneath their suits, the whole endeavor is hopelessly biased.

6. Mueller himself has conflicts of interest.

Mueller is the most conflicted one of all. Trump astutely pointed out that he’d even agreed to discuss becoming FBI director again following Comey’s dismissal: “He was up here and he wanted the job,” Trump told the New York Times. After he was named as special prosecutor, “I said, ‘What the hell is this all about?’ Talk about conflicts. But he was interviewing for the job.” Plus, Mueller’s old firm also had clients involved in the investigation. The Justice Department reviewed those and found no problem with Mueller’s current role, but what do those guys know anyway? And there’s even more! Trump told the Times that “There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point.” When he does tell us, everyone is going to feel very foolish about trusting this Mueller guy.

7. Mueller keeps expanding his investigation.

The president warned Mueller that his investigation “is about Russia” and it would cross a red line if he strays into areas like Trump-family finances. And yet, the prosecutor keeps having the temerity to stray beyond the lines that Trump — the conduct of whose campaign and company are the investigation’s very subject — thinks he should be examining. It’s possible Mueller just got confused by his capacious mandate from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which gives him authority not merely over “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” but also over “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation” and any attempt obstruct the investigation. But clearly Mueller is trampling the time-honored legal principle that the subjects of investigations get to say which parts the police are allowed to investigate.

8. Mueller is best friends with Comey.

A lot of people say this. Here’s Republican Rep. Trent Franks: “Bob Mueller is in clear violation of federal code and must resign to maintain the integrity of the investigation into alleged Russian ties. Those who worked under them have attested he and Jim Comey possess a close friendship, and they have delivered on-the-record statements effusing praise of one another.” Here’s blogger and law professor Glenn Reynolds: “Special Counsel Robert Mueller has a problem: He has a disqualifying conflict of interest regarding a large part of his work. It involves a choice between investigating or relying on former FBI director James Comey, a longtime close friend of Mueller’s.”

Sure, their actual premise is wrong and Comey and Mueller are not close friends. But never mind that. If we say it enough times, it will become true.

Mueller and Comey certainly know each other. They ran the same federal law enforcement agency in sequence. They worked together when one of them was deputy attorney general and the other was running the FBI. And they appear to have a mutually respectful relationship. They’ve probably even had lunch. And just as all of us maintain intimate personal friendships and unfailing loyalty towards all our former co-workers, so too is Mueller in the tank for Comey and incapable of remaining objective about President Trump.

9. Mueller is a problem because he was appointed by Rod Rosenstein, who is a problem because he appointed Mueller.

No less a figure than the estimable Sean Hannity made this decidedly sensible — and certainly not circular — argument by way of arguing both that Mueller’s probe has gone on too long and that it was exceeding its jurisdictional boundaries, both points discussed above. Rosenstein, you see, is suspect because, among other things, “Rosenstein is … the guy who appointed Robert Mueller and apparently either didn’t know or didn’t care about the fact that the day before he was named special counsel, Mueller interviewed with President Trump for the FBI director’s job.” Mueller, thus, is suspect because his investigation is being overseen by the guy who is suspect for having appointed him. “You can’t make this up,” Hannity writes.

Indeed you cannot.

10. Mueller is respected and admired at the FBI, and the FBI is the depths of the Deep State.

Do you need a better reason to hate him than that?

Photo credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Benjamin Wittes is editor in chief of Lawfare.

Susan Hennessey is managing editor of Lawfare.

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