Right-wing media attack FBI Russia probe special counsel Robert Mueller

Right-wing media attack FBI Russia probe special counsel Robert Mueller

››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN & ZACHARY PLEAT

Right-wing media and fake news purveyors are attacking Robert Mueller, special counsel to the FBI’s Russia probe, claiming he is biased because he has connections to former FBI Director James Comey and that he is “the poison fruit of a deliberate manipulation” by Comey.


Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller appointed special counsel for FBI’s Russia probe

Robert Mueller named special counsel for FBI’s Russia investigation. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein in May appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel “to oversee the investigation into ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russian officials,” according to The New York Times. From the May 17 article:

The Justice Department appointed Robert S. Mueller III, a former F.B.I. director, as special counsel on Wednesday to oversee the investigation into ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, dramatically raising the legal and political stakes in an affair that has threatened to engulf Mr. Trump’s four-month-old presidency.

The decision by the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, came after a cascade of damaging developments for Mr. Trump in recent days, including his abrupt dismissal of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and the subsequent disclosure that Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey to drop the investigation of his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. [The New York Times, 5/17/17]

Former FBI Director James Comey says he shared memos on his interactions with Trump to get special counsel appointed. Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump, said in his June 8 testimony before the Senate that “he orchestrated the leak of accounts of conversations with President Donald Trump because he thought it might lead to the appointment of a special prosecutor to lead the Russia investigation.” From a June 8 CNN article:

Former FBI Director James Comey testified Thursday that he orchestrated the leak of accounts of conversations with President Donald Trump because he thought it might lead to the appointment of a special prosecutor to lead the Russia investigation.

[...]

He said that it dawned on him that there could be corroboration of a memo that he wrote after the President tweeted that he better hope there were no White House tapes of their conversations.

“My judgment was that I needed to get that out into the public square,” he said. He added he took the step “because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.” [CNN.com, 6/8/17]

Right-wing media and fake news purveyors attack Mueller, demanding he be fired as special counsel

Fox’s Newt Gingrich: “Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair.” According to The Hill, Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich told radio host John Catsimatidis on June 11 that Congress “should abolish the independent counsel” because Comey made it “so clear that it’s the poison fruit of a deliberate manipulation,” claiming that in “leaking to the New York Times, [Comey] deliberately set up this particular situation.” The next day, Gingrich wrote on Twitter, “Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair. Look who he is hiring ... Time to rethink.”

[The Hill, 6/11/17; Twitter, 6/12/17]

Fox’s Gregg Jarrett: Mueller cannot “fairly and objectively evaluate the evidence he gathers.” Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett wrote that Mueller cannot “fairly and objectively evaluate the evidence he gathers” because he “has had a long and close relationship with” Comey. From a May 19 FoxNews.com article:

Robert Mueller has a serious conflict of interest that should disqualify him from serving as special counsel.

He has had a long and close relationship with someone who will surely become a pivotal witness –James Comey.

No one doubts Mueller’s sterling credentials. That is not the issue. He is eminently qualified. The problem arises in his duty to fairly and objectively evaluate the evidence he gathers.

How can Americans have confidence in the results if they know the special counsel may harbor a conspicuous bias? They cannot. The conflict inevitably discredits whatever conclusion is reached. It renders the entire investigatory exercise suspect, and it only elevates the controversy surrounding it.

For this reason, Mueller should not serve as special counsel. 

[...]

Mueller’s probe will morph into an investigation of the Trump-Comey meeting to determine whether the president tried to obstruct justice. It will become a case of “he said…he said”. Which man will the special counsel believe? His good friend or the man who fired his good friend? How can Mueller fairly and impartially assess Comey’s credibility versus Trump’s?

There is also the fairness of the broader investigation to consider. It is reasonable to assume Mueller was not pleased to see Comey canned. Any animosity which the special counsel may bear could influence the course of his overall investigation into potential wrongdoing by President Trump and his associates. He may be tempted to conjure criminality where none really exists.

Even if Mueller takes pains to avoid partiality, how can anyone be assured he will succeed? Even impeccably honest people can be subject to influence in ways they don’t even recognize themselves. It is the human condition. Which is precisely why there are legal and ethical rules which demand recusal based on prior relationships.

If Robert Mueller truly embraces a fidelity to the law and all its attendant principles of ethics, then he should disqualify himself from serving as Special Counsel. [FoxNews.com, 5/19/17]

Fox’s Byron York: “Should a prosecutor pursue a case in which the star witness is a close friend?” Fox News contributor and Washington Examiner chief political correspondent Byron York attacked Mueller’s integrity by questioning whether it is a “conflict” for him to be involved with the Russia probe if Comey, who is a “good friend” of Mueller’s, could be “central” to “allegations of obstruction against the president.” Added York, “Should a prosecutor pursue a case in which the star witness is a close friend?” From the June 11 article:

Comey is a good friend of special counsel Robert Mueller — such a good friend, for about 15 years now, that the two men have been described as “brothers in arms.” Their work together during the controversies over Bush-era terrorist surveillance has been characterized as “deepening a friendship forged in the crucible of the highest levels of the national security apparatus after the 9/11 attacks,” after which the men became “close partners and close allies throughout the years ahead.”

Now Mueller is investigating the Trump-Russia affair, in which, if the increasing buzz in the case is correct, allegations of obstruction against the president will be central. And central to those allegations — the key witness — will be the prosecutor's good friend, the now-aggrieved former FBI director.

Is that a conflict? Should a prosecutor pursue a case in which the star witness is a close friend? And when the friend is not only a witness but also arguably a victim — of firing — by the target of the investigation? And when the prosecutor might also be called on to investigate some of his friend's actions? The case would be difficult enough even without the complicating friendship. [Washington Examiner, 6/11/17]

Fox’s Brian Kilmeade: “People” are wondering “if there's another agenda” because of how “close Mueller and Comey are together.” Fox host Brian Kilmeade claimed that “people are … wondering if there's another agenda” on Mueller’s part because of how “close Mueller and Comey are together and the disdain Comey has for this president.” He also attacked Mueller’s impartiality, saying, “I hope he’s not trying to do something for his friend.” From the June 12 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): I mean, the quality of people and the budget that they have at this committee, with guys like Tony Mauro, who are known -- who has got a great reputation -- this guy, Michael Dreeben, who has argued a hundred cases in front of the Supreme Court. These are criminal guys, and people are getting wondering if there's another agenda being that so close Mueller and Comey are together and the disdain Comey has for this president.

[...]

I don't know Robert Mueller. I know he was hired by [former President George W.] Bush and extended by [former President Barack] Obama. I just also know he's buddies with Comey, and clearly Comey can't be fair and balanced about this investigation. I hope he's not trying to do something for his friend. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/12/17]

Ann Coulter: Attorney General Jeff “Sessions should fire Mueller.”

[Twitter, 6/11/17]

Daily Wire: "Yes, Robert Mueller Should Recuse Himself From Investigating Trump Over Comey Firing." Daily Wire's Elliott Hamilton argued that "it is abundantly clear that Special Counsel for the Russia investigation Robert Mueller needs to recuse himself from any issues surrounding" Comey because he has known him "for years and worked alongside each other." From the June 12 article:

In light of James Comey's testimony last week, it is abundantly clear that Special Counsel for the Russia investigation Robert Mueller needs to recuse himself from any issues surrounding the former FBI Director. If Mueller, who preceded Comey as FBI Director, were to incorporate issues surrounding his successor in his investigation, then it would constitute an ethical violation through the Department of Justice.

[...]

Mueller and Comey have known each other for years and worked alongside each other during the George W. Bush years when Mueller served as FBI Director and Comey served as Deputy Attorney General under Attorney General John Ashcroft. As Politico reported, when Comey realized that Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card intended to get an incapacitated Ashcroft to renew the controversial Stellar Wind program, he first contacted Mueller and sought his guidance. In short, not only does Comey have a remarkable professional relationship with Mueller, but he also maintains a strong personal relationship with him.

[...]

Given all of this information, it would obligate Mueller to recuse himself from issues surrounding his friend and former colleague. [Daily Wire, 6/12/17]

Rush Limbaugh: “Gingrich is on the warpath” against Mueller, “and he should be.” Radio host Rush Limbaugh implied that Mueller’s independent investigation wouldn’t be fair, noting that “Comey and Mueller are buddies.” Limbaugh added that “Newt Gingrich is on the warpath about this, and he should be,” and noted that Trump “could fire” Mueller if he wanted to. From the June 12 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): Comey and Mueller are buddies. They’re more than colleagues, they’re buddies. Anybody who thinks that this independent counsel investigation is going to be “fair,” quote, unquote, anybody who thinks it’s going to be -- there’s no reason for one, number one. Number two, anybody who thinks this -- let me ask you a question. Have you ever heard -- and I’ve asked every legal beagle I know -- you ever heard of any independent counsel investigation that concluded with the independent counsel saying, “You know what? We’re done. We found nothing. Nobody violated a law, everything involved here is clear, and we’re closing the” -- has that ever happened? No. It can’t happen. After all the money that’s spent, after all the political lead-in for the necessity of the thing, they have to find a crime somewhere. Hello, Scooter Libby, and the Valerie Plame so-called leak. Newt Gingrich is on the warpath about this, and he should be, but there aren’t any other Republicans on the warpath about this. Do you know that Trump could fire the independent counsel if he wanted to? Obviously he’s being advised not to do that, he can’t fire Comey, then the independent counsel wouldn't look good, but he could. He runs the executive branch. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 6/12/17]

The Federalist Tribune and The Washington Feed: “It’s time to end the special prosecutor.” Fake news purveyors The Federalist Tribune and The Washington Feed printed the same piece claiming that Comey admitted “that he is responsible for the leaks of the account between him and” Trump and was “right” that “it would lead to a special prosecutor.” It added that Newt Gingrich “is right – it’s time to end the special prosecutor.” From the June 10 article:

Former FBI Director James Comey testified on Thursday and admitted that he is responsible for the leaks of the account between him and President Donald Trump. This means he lied under oath, when he said that he never leaked information to the press. He said that he thought it would lead to a special prosecutor. He was right – it did.

[...]

Newt Gingrich called this “the most startling revelation” from the day’s testimony, as it was a “barefaced admission” of his intent to leak the documents in hopes a special counsel would be appointed to investigate the charges.

[...]

Gingrich is right – it’s time to end the special prosecutor. [The Federalist Tribune, 6/10/17; PolitiFact, 4/14/17; The Washington Feed, 6/10/17; Snopes.com, 1/18/17]

American Today: “It’s time that we the people demand that we don’t need the special prosecutor.” Fake news purveyor American Today claimed that Gingrich “is totally right about this” and that “it’s time that we the people demand that we don’t need the special prosecutor” because Mueller “is set to lead the Russia investigation and has also known Comey for a long time.” From the June 10 article:

Former FBI Director James Comey testified on Thursday that he is the one behind the leaks of the account between him and President Donald Trump. He thought that it would lead to a special prosecutor. He was right. It did. Newt Gingrich doesn’t like that! Look what he said below. The conversation starts at 3:45 minutes again.

[...]

Newt Gingrich is totally right about this. It’s time to end the special prosecutor. He is set to lead the Russia investigation and has also known Comey for a long time.

[...]

Newt Gingrich is right. It’s time that we the people demand that we don’t need the special prosecutor. [American Today, 6/10/17, 4/17/17; Snopes.com 4/17/17]

This item has been updated.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.