Supporters of President Donald Trump are questioning the timing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s decision to indict former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and a business associate Monday on charges unrelated to the 2016 campaign, as well as to reveal an earlier guilty plea by a junior campaign adviser for lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Mueller pounced just days after news broke that the FBI, under Mueller, had been aware of Russian efforts to influence Hillary Clinton over a uranium deal; and that the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee had paid for the “Russian dossier” that may have led the FBI to investigate Trump associates in the first place.
Those revelations led the Wall Street Journal to call on Mueller to resign from the Russia investigation due to his conflicts of interest: “It is no slur against Mr. Mueller’s integrity to say that he lacks the critical distance to conduct a credible probe of the bureau he ran for a dozen years,” the Journal wrote.
In fact, there are conflicts of interest throughout the various investigations surrounding Russia, as well as the 2016 presidential campaign.
There are, broadly, six separate scandals, all of which have compromised the independence and integrity of the FBI:
- Uranium One – The FBI was aware of Russian efforts to influence then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to approve the sale of a mining company that controlled 20% of U.S. uranium resources to a Russian company. Robert Mueller was director of the FBI at the time, and the investigation was run by Rod Rosenstein, who is currently Deputy Attorney General and appointed Mueller as Special Counsel in the Russia investigation.
- Clinton emails – The FBI had evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton in the mishandling of classified information and the destruction of government emails, but chose not to prosecute her in 2016. Then-FBI Director James Comey claimed she did not have “intent” to break the law, even though there is no requirement of intent in the federal statutes that she was accused of breaking. (The case was later re-opened.)
- Russian dossier – Republican billionaire Paul Singer, who opposed Trump, paid for an opposition research firm, Fusion GPS, to find damaging information on Trump. After the primary, the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee continued funding Fusion GPS, which then produced a “dossier” of salacious but unverified accusations against Trump based on sources close to the Russian government. The “dossier” circulated throughout Beltway media and political circles, and was referred to by Democrats in advance of the election, but was never published until Buzzfeed released it before the inauguration in 2017. The FBI may have used the dossier as a basis for investigating the Trump campaign, and even reportedly considering paying the dossier’s author, former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. The FBI has stonewalled congressional efforts to find out exactly what role the dossier played in its investigations.
- Russian collusion – The Obama administration began investigating the possibility of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign in July 2016. That was the same month that Trump joked at a press conference about the Russians finding Hillary Clinton’s missing emails, which the media spun as an invitation to Russian hackers. No evidence was found, but after the election, allegations of collusion became dogma among Democrats, and FBI investigations continued. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation because of his ties to the campaign and because of accusations of perjury by Democrats, but Rosenstein — who was a potential witness, due to his involvement in the decision to fire Comey — did not recuse himself.
- Surveillance and unmasking – In the months leading up to Trump’s inauguration, mainstream media sources reported that several Trump associates had been under surveillance by law enforcement, though no evidence of collusion was found. At least one of the names, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, was “unmasked” by a yet-unknown Obama administration official and leaked, illegally, to the mainstream media. The outgoing president had made such leaks more likely — perhaps deliberately — by relaxing privacy rules on surveillance evidence, allowing such evidence to be widely disseminated within the government. It is likely that some of the leaks to the media came from within the FBI, but no charges have yet been filed.
- Leaks – In the run-up to, and the early days of, the Trump presidency, there were dozens of leaks from inside the federal government to the mainstream media of classified and sensitive information, with the clear intent of damaging the new administration. One of the leaks came from James Comey himself, who leaked the contents of memoranda on his conversations with Trump — which he had retained, possibly illegally, after he was fired as FBI director. He later admitted to Congress that he had leaked the memoranda to force the appointment of a special counsel, who happened to be his predecessor and former colleague, Robert Mueller.
These scandals create an impression of an FBI that is concerned about shepherding the political process — keeping Clinton in the presidential race, then distancing itself from her likely victory, then undermining the new president — not in maintaining a distance from partisan politics and personal interests.
And as the Wall Street Journal noted, Mueller’s independence must be questioned, given his own role at the FBI and the way in which he was appointed. It might be argued that Mueller himself has questions to answer about his role in the Uranium One investigation, which allowed the highly suspicious sale to a Russian firm to go through.
It is an odd coincidence that Mueller launched his indictments as he himself became a focus of public scrutiny. He may have felt pressure to justify the investigation by producing some results, however remote from his original mandate. Mueller may also have wanted to use the indictments to warn the president against probing too deeply into his own record. And, of course, Mueller may simply have been acting in a straightforward manner, without ulterior political motives.
But given the odd way Mueller was appointed, his refusal to resign, Rosenstein’s refusal to recuse himself, and Comey’s brazen leaks to the press, it is difficult to credit good faith to anyone involved.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.