Robert Mueller Is Not The Bipartisan He's Made Out To Be

  • Sam Mire
  • Jul 4, 2017 2:57PM

Life after Comey has for many meant a reconsideration of what it means to be objective and bipartisan. Though much of the book has yet to be written regarding Comey’s legacy, many on both sides of the political aisle will forever see Comey as duplicitous, cowardly, and worst of all, partisan.

Yet, when former FBI director under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Robert Mueller, was appointed special counsel overseeing the interminable “investigation” into Trump-Russian détente, few batted an eye. Forget that Comey and Mueller are dearest of friends with a closely-tied professional past or that Mueller oversaw countless scandals during the Obama years with nothing to show for his “efforts,” most seemed to imply with their silence. Mueller, like Comey before him, was associated with the FBI, a supposedly independent branch of government, so he must be a man above reproach, conventional logic dictates.

A look at Mueller’s past decisions as FBI director, as well as some recent developments pertaining to the Russia investigation, exposes a picture of a man who is decidedly partisan, though seemingly tough to peg. A supposedly non-partisan leader who took a public stand against a Republican president’s policies on the grounds of protecting citizens’ privacy, yet allowed a Democratic president’s criminal abuses of Americans’ privacy to go unchecked. A revered investigator who commanded the leading investigative bureau in the nation with the most advanced resources during eight scandal-ridden years, yet found little to nothing in terms of wrongdoing, evidence, or conclusions. An ‘independent’ investigator who has added numerous Democratic donors to a team tasked with investigating the most reviled Republican president in our nation’s history not named Lincoln.

The man who beat cancer and oversaw the FBI in the wake of 9/11 is admirable in many ways. Yet, when it comes to the investigation into alleged obstruction of justice and collusion with Russia, the pressing question is not whether Mueller has admirable qualities. The question is whether Mueller may be open to partisan influence, as his Obama-era years directing the FBI and his selections to the special counsel seem to suggest.

A Man Worthy of Respect

Robert Mueller has earned his stripes. After his friend and Princeton lacrosse teammate David Spencer Hackett was killed in combat in Vietnam, Mueller has said he felt compelled to enlist himself. His time as an officer in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War resulted in him being awarded a Bronze Star for heroism in addition to a Purple Heart for sustaining an injury in combat.

He is not lacking in intellect, either. He is a graduate of Princeton University as well as UVA Law School. Before being appointed FBI Director by George W. Bush in 2001, Mueller had served as a U.S. Attorney as well as deputy attorney general, garnering a reputation in the process for being direct, effective, and no-nonsense in his approach.

He would need a steely nature immediately upon being confirmed as Director, as the date was September 4, 2001. As nearly everybody knows, only a week later the most lethal terror attack ever perpetrated on American soil would rock the nation’s sense of security forever.

Yet, Mueller’s chosen roots in San Francisco as a lawyer are the first sign that he may have some leftward-leanings, despite holding such potential bias close to the vest as an employee of the government. 

Many have cited Mueller’s appointment by George W. Bush and his extended appointment under Barack Obama as evidence of his lack of partisanship, yet his decisions regarding when and when not to take public stances against presidential policy varied greatly under each. This has led some to conclude that Mueller is not the man who is above partisan sway that many have lauded him as.

Not All Domestic Spying is the Same, Apparently

Robert Mueller took a personal stand in March of 2004, and few could blame him then. At the time, the Department of Justice had ruled that domestic wiretapping without a warrant was unconstitutional. In the name of national security, credible speculation was that the executive might overrule the DOJ’s ruling, proceeding with wiretapping.

Mueller, along with deputy attorney general and close friend James Comey, threatened resignation should the White House choose to overrule the DOJ. The saga is quite a story. Ultimately, President Bush would choose not to overrule the Justice Department, and while the NSA did proceed with wiretapping in the interim, a mass resignation prepared by Mueller, Comey, and other members of the Justice Department would prove unnecessary.

Still, this incident is noteworthy for two reasons. One, Mueller and Comey’s close professional alignment- so intertwined that both saw fit to threaten resignation based on their own principles- would come back into play 13 years after this incident.

Two, Mueller’s apparent ardent stance against the implementation of warrant-less domestic spying would not appear so ardent under President Obama, who implemented similar programs with little mainstream criticism, thanks in large part to the relative silence of Mueller and Comey.

When Robert Mueller’s tenure was set to expire on September 4th, 2011, many thought that would be the end of his run as FBI director. Why wouldn’t it be? An expiration date is an expiration date. Except when it’s not.

President Barack Obama decided to prolong Mueller’s tenure as director, adding two more years to the traditional ten-year term, a move that was approved by the Senate, moving Mueller’s final expiration date as FBI director to September 4th, 2013. But why, one might wonder, was Barack Obama eager to keep Mueller on?

While the extension of Mueller’s government contract is not proof of any wrongdoing or partisanship in and of itself, the handling of numerous high-profile and potentially impeachable scandals by the FBI during the Obama years qualifies as gross incompetence at best and suspicious at worst.

The Obama-era scandals will live in infamy. Benghazi and its aftermath, targeting and tracking of conservative journalists, the IRS refusing to approve conservative non-profits as tax-exempt, fast and furious, and the lies associated with the passage of Obamacare are just a few of the most high-profile. Many of these scandals were the result of evidence found by independent journalists and other outlets, not the resource-rich FBI, and much of this evidence was damning.

Yet it was the practices of the National Security Agency that had the most wide-ranging implications for most Americans. A Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court ruling found that the NSA routinely violated Americans’ civil liberties under the Obama administration, including unprecedented spying on innocent, non-suspect Americans by government employees in the intelligence community.

It was the apparent knowledge of these violations by the FBI, and the apparent refusal to alert the public or curb such violations, that calls Mueller’s independence into doubt in a serious way. A software designer, Dennis Montgomery, attained documents highlighting the Bureau’s knowledge of this illegal spying, and the reality that the FBI permitted these abuses to go on for years under Mueller and his successor and friend, James Comey.

Keep in mind that these two are the men who threatened to resign in 2004 over the attempted implementation of programs in the name of surveilling domestic terrorists. Under Obama, it was proven that NSA employees routinely ignored guidelines they promised to follow, yet instead of finding potential terrorists, it was conservative groups and individuals that primarily fell victim to this warrant-less spying.

Even the notoriously liberal American Civil Liberties Union condemned the lack of intervention by the intelligence community, particularly the FBI:

“The American Civil Liberties Union said the newly disclosed violations are some of the most serious to ever be documented and strongly call into question the U.S. intelligence community’s ability to police itself and safeguard American’s privacy as guaranteed by the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure.”

So, did Mueller have a change of heart, of principle even, in the years between 2004 and his gaining knowledge of the NSA’s spying practices under Obama? Where was the threat to resign when he learned that these systematic and illegal practices were being perpetrated?

The only thing that had changed with respect to the issue of domestic surveillance was the party affiliation of the president and the extent to which domestic spying was being implemented. The spying had become more targeted and more prevalent, and not in the name of catching terrorists. Spying was, under Obama, primarily used to target political opponents.

Perhaps it should be no wonder why Barack Obama requested Mueller stay on for two more years. The administration engaged in scandal after scandal with not so much as a slap on the wrist from the nation’s investigative bureau, despite the bureau, thanks to Montgomery’s findings, having total knowledge of the practices.