Sunday, July 28, 2019

Robert Mueller's Team and the Question of Vetting

Hat tip Law and

During Robert Mueller's testimony on July 24, one of the few times he showed much energy was when he was questioned over the makeup of his team and the fact that they were all Democrats to the exclusion of any Republicans. Mueller forcefully stated that he has never questioned the politics of those who worked for him. It was one of the few "bright spots" for Democrats and the liberal media on an otherwise dark day.

But was it?

It is fair enough to argue that prosecutorial/investigative teams should never let their personal politics enter their work. It would also be highly improper for a supervisor in say, the Justice Department, to question their employees about their personal politics. In my 25-year career with DEA and US Customs, I was never asked such a question.

At the same time, however, we should not be so quick to let Mueller off the hook on that point. He had every ethical obligation to "vet" his prospective team members for any possible bias that would color their work and that of the rest of the team. In this respect, it goes much deeper than how many were Democrats vs. Republicans.

The most egregious example was now-disgraced ex-FBI official Peter Strzok. He was one of those who was involved in the FBI investigation of Trump and his campaign and who was caught up in email exchanges with his paramour, Lisa Page, in discussing how they were going to derail Trump. To be fair, when Mueller (belatedly) learned of Stzrok's involvement, he removed him from his team. He should have known before ever selecting him.

Then there is Andrew Weissmann, the ex-DOJ prosecutor with a mixed record of successes and failures including his very controversial prosecution of Arthur Andersen LLP, an accounting firm who had represented the now defunct Enron Corporation. Convictions against Andersen LLP were thrown out by the US Supreme Court. But that is small potatoes considering the fact that Weissmann was one of the "happy revelers" who attended Hillary Clinton's planned victory party on election night 2016. Do you think Mr Weissmann might have been free from bias?

Then there is Jeannie Rhee, former DOJ lawyer and assistant to then-Attorney General Eric Holder in the Obama administration. This is a woman who represented Hillary Clinton in her infamous email mess as secretary of state. Mueller was asked if he was aware of that before he hired her, and he answered in the negative while stating that he was aware of it now. Yet, it is strange that Mueller would not have known about this before hiring her since they were both partners at the same law firm (WilmerHale) prior to taking up the special counsel job.

Just the appearance of a conflict of interest seems to been present here. There are so many questions that could and should have been posed to every prospective member of Mueller's team. How could Mueller have assembled his team without taking care to remove any conflicts of interest or even the appearance thereof? Since his disastrous performance Wednesday, his apologists are suggesting that age has merely caught up with Mueller. Others state flatly that Mueller obviously didn't write the report and apparently didn't have much to do with the day to day operation of the two-year investigation into Trump and possible collusion. I don't want to prejudge Mueller because he has lived an honorable life in service to his country. Whether it is a case of age, incompetence, or something else, this final chapter in Robert Mueller's career has not been pretty.

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