Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Robert Mueller terrifies President Trump. Of course he wants him gone.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller scares the daylights out of President Trump and the White House. The president is obsessed with the Russia investigation, refusing to let go of it on Twitter and otherwise. Many of his top aides are caught up in it, including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.  Almost every top White House official, including the vice president, is lawyering up. Even the president's lawyer has gotten a lawyer.
If the president or those around him have done anything wrong, Mueller represents a real threat. He is about as good a special counsel as one can imagine, having bipartisan credentials and deep prosecutorial experience — far more than the late Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. And Mueller is assembling a dream team of expert deputies. Of course the president would love an excuse to get rid of Mueller.
We have previously rebutted claims that Mueller's prior law firm affiliation posed a conflict — under the District of Columbia’s tough professional conduct rules, it does not. But Trump's surrogates continue to manufacture new and ludicrous conflict of interest claims against Mueller. One is that because he worked closely with James Comey at the FBI and because Comey is a material witness to the obstruction of justice part of the case, Mueller cannot investigate and if appropriate prosecute the obstruction of justice charge.We are not aware of any precedent for a prosecutor being required to recuse from a case simply because a colleague who was also a law enforcement officer was a material witness in the case. Nor do the applicable rules of professional conduct for attorneys or prosecutors require it. In fact, many prosecutors are close friends with police officers, detectives, FBI agents and other law enforcement officials. Indeed, the rules even explicitly state that a lawyer can act as an advocate in a trial in which another lawyer currently in the same law firm is a witness — so clearly a former colleague would not be a problem. To preclude prosecutors from working on cases solely for these kinds of reasons would unduly hamper the course of justice.
Donald Trump ethics waivers flood the swamp with conflicts of interest
We need a Robert Mueller resignation or a second special counsel
Another argument is that Mueller should not have hired any lawyers for his staff who made significant campaign contributions. This overlooks that Mueller himself was a registered Republican when he was appointed by President George W. Bush to head the FBI, and he was named special counsel by Trump’s own deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.
His critics apparently feel that Mueller has not sufficiently solidified his Republican credentials by making significant campaign contributions recently. But to them his deeper sin is that he appointed to his staff a handful of lawyers who made contributions to Democrats. This presumably makes the entire enterprise a partisan “witch hunt.”
This objection is frivolous. Presidents of both political parties have for a long time appointed campaign contributors to be U.S. attorneys and top Justice Department officials. Every American is subject to being prosecuted by these officials who were also campaign contributors to one party or the other. But a Republican special counsel who hires a handful of Democrats is presumed to be biased against the most powerful man in the country, the president? Nonsense.While they’re at it, Trump surrogates might as well also object that Mueller and John Kerry, the former Democratic senator and secretary of State, went to high school together at St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H. In fact Mueller and Kerry played together on the St. Paul’s ice hockey team – and after graduation, they went off to Vietnam together. Kerry of course has little to do with the Russia inquiry, but perhaps Trump's defenders will argue that this entire “Russia thing” is a conspiracy engineered by those who fought in America’s most tragic Cold War episode against those who did not.
What next, dredging up that Cox also went to St. Paul’s? Maybe the three of them cooked up this plot decades ago over gin and tonics at an alumni mixer?
The anti-Trump conspiracy theories can go on and on as Trump’s most extreme backers look for an excuse for him to fire Mueller. But it won’t work. The overwhelming majority of Americans want this investigation to find out what happened when the Russians interfered with our 2016 election, and who among us helped them.
Chances are if Trump fires Mueller, Mike Pence’s trajectory to the Oval Office will accelerate. The American people, and Congress, simply will not stand for it. The president needs to get off of Twitter and focus on his job — and let Mueller and his team do theirs.
Richard Painter is the vice chairman and Norman Eisen is the chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. They were chief White House ethics lawyers for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively. Follow them on Twitter: @RWPUSA and @NormEisen
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