*Mueller:* Is his Russia probe tainted?
Special counsel Robert Mueller “has some explaining to do,” said Ed Rogers in WashingtonPost.com. Seven months into his probe of alleged collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia, it was revealed last week that over the summer Mueller quietly fired one of his lead investigators, Peter Strzok, after learning that Strzok had expressed anti-Trump opinions. In thousands of text messages with an FBI lawyer named Lisa Page, with whom Strzok was conducting an affair, the pair agreed that Trump is “an idiot” and “a loathsome human being,” and the prospect of his election to the presidency was “f---ing terrifying.” That’s not the only evidence that this investigation is tainted. A key member of Mueller’s team, Andrew Weissmann, not only attended Hillary Clinton’s election-night party but also sent a gushing-fan email to acting Attorney General Sally Yates when she refused to implement Trump’s travel ban. Enough is enough, said James Robbins in USAToday.com. The stakes in Mueller’s investigation are too high to let it be conducted by a “clique of politicized government agents.” The probe must be suspended.
Well, this was utterly predictable, said Will Bunch in Philly.com. As Mueller closes in on Trump, the panicked president and his toadies in the right-wing media are teeing up justifications for him to fire the special counsel. During Watergate, Richard Nixon did fire the special prosecutor, but got major pushback from principled Republicans. Nixon also didn’t have the support of today’s “state-run media”—Fox News, whose foaming-at-the-mouth commentators are now howling that Mueller is “illegitimate and corrupt,” and that anti-Trump agents at the FBI and Department of Justice should be “taken out in handcuffs.” That hysteria has no foundation in fact, said David Graham in TheAtlantic.com. Mueller, a registered Republican appointed FBI director by George W. Bush, is a man whose reputation for integrity Republicans praised when he was named special counsel. When Mueller found out about Strzok’s texts, he fired him. Besides, prosecutors and FBI agents are allowed to hold and express political beliefs in their private lives; they are required only to keep those beliefs separate from their work. Since the investigation began, it has yielded a mountain of evidence of contacts between Trump’s campaign and the Russians, two indictments, and two plea deals with cooperating witnesses. No amount of bias can “create” evidence of crimes that weren’t committed.
Trump’s defenders are only taking a page from the Bill Clinton playbook, said Byron York in WashingtonExaminer.com. When Clinton was being stalked by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, a Republican, his team conducted a scorched-earth campaign to portray the investigation as a politically motivated “witch hunt.” That made it easy for Democrats to acquit Clinton during his impeachment trial. The current attacks on Mueller aren’t designed to justify a firing, which would be as “disastrous” for Trump. It’s to give congressional Republicans who’d vote on impeachment “a ready, cable-TV-tested line of defense focusing on the unfairness of the prosecutor.”
Don’t pretend we’ve been here before, said E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post. Remember why Trump and his team are being investigated: for possible cooperation with a foreign power’s interference in our presidential election. Republicans seem to be saying, “Too bad the president lied or broke the law, or that Russia tried to tilt our election”—since one investigator called Trump an idiot, “let’s just forget the whole thing.” If Republicans pull off a cover-up this brazen, we’re in big trouble. “This is a recipe for autocracy.”