Repub­li­cans ham­mer Mueller and FBI

The Press - - World -

UNITED STATES: Repub­li­can ac­tivists and law­mak­ers are en­gaged in a multi-front at­tack on Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller’s probe of pos­si­ble con­nec­tions be­tween as­so­ciates of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Rus­sian agents, try­ing to stop or cur­tail the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as it moves fur­ther into Trump’s in­ner cir­cle.

For months, the pres­i­dent and his al­lies have been seiz­ing on any whiff of pos­si­ble im­pro­pri­ety by Mueller’s team or the FBI to ar­gue that the Rus­sia probe is stacked against Trump – po­ten­tially build­ing the po­lit­i­cal sup­port needed to dis­miss the spe­cial coun­sel.

Sev­eral law en­force­ment of­fi­cials say they are con­cerned that the con­stant drum­beat of con­ser­va­tive crit­i­cism seems de­signed to erode Mueller’s cred­i­bil­ity, mak­ing it more po­lit­i­cally palat­able to re­move, re­strict or sim­ply ig­nore his rec­om­men­da­tions as his in­ves­ti­ga­tion pro­gresses.

Fox News Chan­nel per­son­al­ity Sean Han­nity, one of the pres­i­dent’s in­for­mal ad­vis­ers as well as one of his most vo­cif­er­ous de­fend­ers, has called Mueller ‘‘a dis­grace to the Amer­i­can jus­tice sys­tem’’ and said his team is ‘‘cor­rupt, abu­sively bi­ased and po­lit­i­cal’’.

Sev­eral con­ser­va­tive law­mak­ers yes­ter­day de­manded more de­tails of how the FBI pro­ceeded last year in its probes of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s use of per­sonal email and Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence. Ear­lier this week, the con­ser­va­tive group Ju­di­cial Watch re­leased an in­ter­nal Jus­tice Depart­ment email that, the group said, showed po­lit­i­cal bias against Trump by one of Mueller’s se­nior pros­e­cu­tors.

Fresh am­mu­ni­tion came last week­end, when it was re­vealed that Peter Str­zok, the top FBI agent on Mueller’s team, had been re­moved over po­lit­i­cally charged texts he’d ex­changed with an­other for­mer mem­ber of the Mueller team, se­nior FBI lawyer Lisa Page. The texts ap­peared to favour Clin­ton and dis­par­age Trump, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

‘‘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?’’ North Car­olina Repub­li­can Mark Mead­ows asked.

Mead­ows, leader of the Free­dom Cau­cus, cited a litany of other is­sues that he said showed bias on the part of the FBI and Mueller, in­clud­ing past po­lit­i­cal dona­tions by lawyers on Mueller’s team.

Ac­cu­sa­tions of bias against Mueller from con­ser­va­tives have be­come com­mon­place in the pub­lic de­bate about the pres­i­dent and the Rus­sia probe, and Repub­li­cans are ex­pected to grill FBI Di­rec­tor Christo­pher Wray about those matters when he tes­ti­fies to­day be­fore the House ju­di­ciary com­mit­tee.

The chair­man of that com­mit­tee has been press­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment to ap­point a sec­ond spe­cial coun­sel – one to probe Clin­ton, as well as the FBI’s han­dling of past Clin­ton-re­lated probes. Law en­force­ment of­fi­cials also ex­pect Wray will be pressed on that is­sue again to­day in the wake of the Str­zok-Page rev­e­la­tions, which are be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral.

Mueller did get a pub­lic vote of con­fi­dence yes­ter­day from Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein, the se­nior Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cial over­see­ing the Rus­sia probe – though Rosen­stein did not ad­dress the Str­zok in­quiry.

Rosen­stein was asked if he was sat­is­fied with what he had seen so far from the spe­cial coun­sel’s of­fice. He replied yes, and noted that some pub­lic charges had been filed.

Trump tweeted last week­end that the FBI’s rep­u­ta­tion was ‘‘in tat­ters’’.

Str­zok was a ma­jor player in both the Clin­ton and Rus­sia probes, tak­ing part in key in­ter­views, in­clud­ing those of Clin­ton and Trump’s for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty last week to ly­ing to the FBI dur­ing that Jan­uary ques­tion­ing.

Yes­ter­day, Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee chair­man Charles Grass­ley signed letters to the Jus­tice Depart­ment and FBI de­mand­ing more in­for­ma­tion about Str­zok’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

‘‘Str­zok’s be­hav­iour and in­volve­ment in these two po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive cases raises new con­cerns of in­ap­pro­pri­ate po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence in the work of the FBI,’’ Grass­ley wrote.

Matthew Miller, a Demo­crat and for­mer Jus­tice Depart­ment spokesman, said Grass­ley was part of a Repub­li­can ef­fort to un­der­mine Mueller’s cred­i­bil­ity over the long run.

‘‘First, they want to kick up dust about Hil­lary Clin­ton so the con­ser­va­tive press has some­thing to talk about that isn’t Trump’s mis­deeds,’’ Miller said. ‘‘The even­tual goal, though, is to dele­git­imise Mueller in such a way that he can ei­ther be fired or can be ig­nored if he con­cludes the pres­i­dent broke the law.’’

A Grass­ley spokesman called Miller’s com­ment ‘‘a base­less charge from a Demo­cratic op­er­a­tive’’ and said the sen­a­tor had a ‘‘three-decade record of govern­ment over­sight across ad­min­is­tra­tions’’.

Grass­ley also called Mueller an ‘‘honourable per­son’’ whose in­ves­ti­ga­tion should be al­lowed to ‘‘play out’’.

Fox News Chan­nel per­son­al­ity Sean Han­nity has called Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller ‘‘a dis­grace to the Amer­i­can jus­tice sys­tem’' and said his team is ‘‘cor­rupt, abu­sively bi­ased and po­lit­i­cal’'.

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