As Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe moves closer to Trump’s inner circle, Republicans are discovering a number of conflicts of interest related to the case, some going back to the investigation against Hillary Clinton.
Like a heated tennis match, Republicans and Democrats are engaged in a long string of back-and-forth volleys in an effort to score a point in the Washington debacle known as ‘Russiagate.’
This week, the ball is in the Democrats’ court after the Republicans scored some wicked backhand shots.
Following up on a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, revealed the political inclinations of at least one member of Mueller’s team. The findings could compromise the Trump probe, which is exactly what many Republicans are aiming for.
The story goes back to January, when President Donald Trump attempted to enforce a temporary travel ban on seven majority-Muslim countries. Acting US Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama-era holdover, called the idea “indefensible” and defied the executive order. Trump fired Yates, accusing her of failing to uphold a lawful order that was “designed to protect the citizens of the United States.”
The story, however, does not end there. Following Yates’ decision, colleagues came out to express their support. In one email, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann sent a message to Yates. In the subject field it said: “I am so proud.”
And in the message field: “And in awe. Thank you so much. All my deepest respects, Andrew Weissmann.”
The problem, as far as the Republicans are concerned, is that Weissmann is one of the members of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team. His brief, laudatory message to Yates is now being used to demonstrate a conflict of interest in the Mueller probe.
The streak of good luck for the Republicans did not end there. According to a report this week in the New York Times, Mueller removed top FBI agent Peter Strzok from his team after it emerged that Strzok had “sent text messages that expressed anti-Trump political views.”
The Times said Strzok was “reassigned this summer from Mr. Mueller’s investigation to the FBI’s human resources department, where he has been stationed since.”
Here is where the story gets juicy. Not only was Strzok an anti-Trumper, he may have played a key role in keeping Hillary Clinton out of jail.
During the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct business while she served as Secretary of State in the Obama administration, Strzok changed the wording of FBI Director James Comey’s report from “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless.” Those two terms, from a legal point of view, could potentially mean the difference between a federal offense with up to 15 years in prison, and a slap-on-the-wrist misdemeanor.
At the time of the announcement, Comey was ridiculed for calling Clinton’s behavior “extremely careless,” while adding that “no reasonable prosecutor” would pursue charges based on the available evidence.
Republicans are now coming out in force in an effort to knock the Mueller investigation off the tracks.
“The question really is, if Mueller was doing such a great job on investigating the Russian collusion, why could he have not found the conflict of interest within their own agency?’’ Congressman Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina) asked during a Wednesday news conference.
Fox News commentator Sean Hannity jumped into the fray this week, calling Mueller and his team “corrupt, abusively biased and political.”
“Robert Mueller’s credibility is in the gutter with these new discoveries,” Hannity railed. “Mueller is frankly a disgrace to the American justice system and has put the country on the brink of becoming a banana republic.”
Whether the latest revelations involving the Mueller investigation are enough to save the Trump administration from any further damage remains to be seen. But it certainly will give Trump some breathing space after four of his former associates, including former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, had charges – none of which were related to campaign misconduct, however – brought against them.