WASHINGTON — As the investigation into President Trump’s ties to Russia has turned into a question of Trump’s credibility versus that of former FBI Director James Comey, Trump’s allies have begun questioning the impartiality of special counsel Robert Mueller.
Many of Trump’s longtime supporters have taken to Twitter or written opinion pieces to argue that Mueller, who was appointed last month by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, will be biased because of his long and close friendship with Comey.
Comey testified before a Senate committee last week, saying that Trump asked him to drop a probe of former national security advisor Michael Flynn, and said he “expected loyalty” from Comey. Trump has denied both statements.
The former FBI director also admitted that he leaked, via a friend, a memo he wrote while in office describing conversations he had with Trump. He did this, according to his testimony to the Senate intelligence committee last week, to prompt the appointment of a special counsel. Supporters of the president argue that the memo was the basis for calls to appoint a special counsel.
No elected officials have criticized Mueller outright, but former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” that he thought Comey’s leak was designed to set up the appointment of a former colleague.
“Look at what Comey said,” Gingrich said. “He said, ‘I deliberately leaked, through an intermediary, to create this counsel,’ who happens to be one of his closest friends. … The director of the FBI was deliberately leaking in order to create a special counsel, who we are supposed to believe will be this neutral figure. I think this is just nonsense.”
Gingrich doubled down on his statement Monday morning.
“Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair. Look who he is hiring.check fec reports. Time to rethink,” he tweeted. At least four of Mueller’s top hires have made contributions to Democratic candidates, according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports.
Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair. Look who he is hiring.check fec reports. Time to rethink.
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) June 12, 2017
These statements contradict remarks Gingrich, a staunch Trump ally, made in the past. Shortly after Mueller’s appointment, Gingrich tweeted that he was a “superb choice” for special counsel, and that he had an “impeccable record for honesty and integrity.”
Robert Mueller is superb choice to be special counsel. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity. Media should now calm down
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) May 18, 2017
In a piece published Monday in the Washington Examiner, conservative pundit Byron York echoed Gingrich’s statement that Mueller’s relationship of more than a decade with Comey would taint his findings.
“Is that a conflict? Should a prosecutor pursue a case in which the star witness is a close friend?” York wrote. “And when the friend is not only a witness but also arguably a victim — of firing — by the target of the investigation? And when the prosecutor might also be called on to investigate some of his friend’s actions? The case would be difficult enough even without the complicating friendship.”
Other allies then piled on in questioning Mueller. Former Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson linked to York’s op-ed in a tweet, adding, “Comey leaked to get a special prosecutor. Special prosecutor is his BFF. Um, yes there is a conflict.”
Comey leaked to get a special prosecutor. Special prosecutor is his BFF. Um, yes there is a conflict. ???? https://t.co/NBixvW8lnC
— Katrina Pierson (@KatrinaPierson) June 12, 2017
Mueller has had a long career in criminal justice, serving as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California until he was selected in 2001 to be then-President George W. Bush’s FBI director. He served in that role until 2013, after President Barack Obama asked him to remain in the post beyond the traditional 10-year term.
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