As Jason Easley reported, the Trump White House is scheming to interfere in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation by smearing Mueller’s independence in speeches and at any other opportunity. This is hardly shocking, given Trump’s numerous earlier attempts to shut down or compromise the FBI’s investigation and those underway in Congress.
The closest to an argument Trump has, actually makes him look foolish because until shortly after he was appointed Mueller was a partner at the law firm, WilmerHale. Among the firm’s clients: Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
I also made a similar argument regarding Joe Lieberman’s possible nomination as FBI Director, while also noting that Lieberman does not have the needed background to competently serve as FBI Director. So why is this different?
For one thing, Bruce Berman, WilmerHale’s general counsel told the Washington Post that Mueller “had no involvement in the representation of Manafort, Kushner or Trump, or any client in connection with any Russia-Related inquiry.”
Still, the DOJ is conducting a background check and a detailed review of conflict of interest issues, according to the Justice Department’s spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores.
Under the rules, the DOJ can issue a waiver – which ethics experts say is likely to be granted. For one thing, Deputy Attorney-General Rod J. Rosenstein is likely to have considered Mueller’s employment history before appointing him.
Bruce Green, director of the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham School of Law told the Washington Post: “The deputy attorney general’s assumption is that Mr. Mueller has such an extraordinarily impressive reputation that everyone is going to have confidence in him.”
Richard Painter, who was George W. Bush’s Ethics lawyer and currently is a law professor at the University of Minnesota told Politico:
I would support them using that authority. It doesn’t really make sense for him to oversee one part of the investigation and recuse from others. … The real risk here is interference by the White House or by [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions’ appointees, not some issue involving WilmerHale.
Painter added that Mueller and other ex-WilmerHale employees should not enter into direct negotiations with their former colleagues and “it would be a good idea not to have too many face-to-face meetings.
The fact that Mueller didn’t work on cases involving Manafort, Kushner, Trump or anyone else who could be investigated on the Russia matter, is a key factor. The fact that he didn’t have any ties to Trump (unlike Joe Lieberman) distinguishes Mueller from Lieberman who if nominated for James Comey’s old job, would be chosen by Donald Trump. These are subtle, but important differences.