As complications and side-plots continue to mount, many of us who support the Russia probe and oppose firing Mueller are nevertheless increasingly concerned about the impartiality of his team. Mueller is a patriot whose integrity should be respected, but he isn't a demigod who's above any and all criticism. His crew's Democratic tilt is a concern, although not a dispositive indictment. The anti-Trump text messages exchanged between two team members aren't necessarily disqualifying, but keeping them a secret from Congress for months doesn't seem justified -- and the "insurance policy" line seems especially sketchy and worthy of follow-up questions. The serious and undisclosed Fusion GPS connection (speaking of which, is this being investigated?) of another recently-demoted Mueller lawyer also undermines confidence in the operation. I've linked to this Kimberly Strassel Wall Street Journal column before, but here's a key pull quote about why it's not paranoid nuttery to wonder if some of the people charged with investigating an issue that may hurt the Trump presidency can do so fairly:
The Strzok texts raise the additional question of whether those interests extend to taking down the president. Mr. Strzok was ejected from Team Mueller for exhibiting anti-Trump, pro-Clinton behavior. By that standard, one has to wonder how Mr. Mueller has any attorneys left. Judicial Watch this week released an email in which Mr. Weissmann gushed about how “proud and in awe” he was of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates for staging a mutiny against the Trump travel ban. Of 15 publicly identified Mueller lawyers, nine are Democratic donors—including several who gave money to Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Jeannie Rhee defended the Clinton Foundation against racketeering charges, and represented Mrs. Clinton personally in the question of her emails. Aaron Zebley represented Justin Cooper, the Clinton aide who helped manage her server. Mr. Goldstein worked for Preet Bharara, whom Mr. Trump fired and who is now a vigorous Trump critic. The question isn’t whether these people are legally allowed (under the Hatch Act) to investigate Mr. Trump—as the left keeps insisting. The question is whether a team of declared Democrats is capable of impartially investigating a Republican president.
Her recommendation is to appoint a truly independent watchdog to ensure that Mueller is unable to stonewall Congress. The editors of National Review are out with a new piece urging an investigation of the investigators. After all, they argue, the exposure of one "irregularity" after another adds up to a haze of suspicion -- especially when the current Trump investigation is juxtaposed with the Clinton email scandal probe:
Everything that has happened in the Trump probe stands out against a backdrop of leniency in the Clinton investigation. While Mueller has prosecuted two Trump associates for lying to the FBI, the Obama Justice Department gave a pass to Mrs. Clinton and her subordinates, who gave the FBI misinformation about such key matters as whether Clinton understood markings in classified documents and whether her aides knew about her homebrew server system during their State Department service. Mueller’s team conducted a predawn raid at gunpoint in executing a search warrant on Paul Manafort’s home while Manafort was cooperating with congressional committees. When it came to the Clinton case, though, the Justice Department not only eschewed search warrants, or even mere subpoenas, but they never even took possession of the DNC server alleged to have been hacked by Russian operatives.
The irregularities in the Clinton-emails investigation are breathtaking: the failure to use the grand jury to compel the production of key physical evidence; the Justice Department’s collaboration with defense lawyers to restrict the FBI’s ability to pursue obvious lines of inquiry and examine digital evidence; immunity grants to suspects who should have been charged with crimes and pressured to cooperate; allowing subjects of the investigation to be present for each other’s FBI interviews and even to act as lawyers for Clinton, in violation of legal and ethical rules; Comey’s preparation of a statement exonerating Clinton months before the investigation was complete and key witnesses — including Clinton herself — were interviewed; and the shameful tarmac meeting between Obama attorney general Loretta Lynch and Mrs. Clinton’s husband just days before Mrs. Clinton sat for a perfunctory FBI interview (after which Comey announced the decision not to charge her).
After affirming their support of the overall Russia investigation and stating their opposition to dismissing Mueller, they conclude: "There are enough questions about the handling of the Clinton and Trump matters that a thorough fact-finding investigation is warranted, and one of greater independence and scope than we are likely to get from the DOJ’s Obama-appointed inspector general. The department needs to appoint a scrupulous, well-regarded United States Attorney from outside the Washington area to scrutinize the conduct of the Justice Department and the FBI in connection with the 2016 election." Meanwhile, Former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy has vouched for Mueller's honesty and professionalism, but also hasn't pulled his own punches along the way. He seems to think that the text message furor is overblown (though he rightly singles out the "insurance policy" exchange as uniquely problematic), but also suggests in a Washington Post op/ed that Mueller reshuffle his operation a bit more:
I was a federal prosecutor in New York for many years, and I was not shy about sharing my conservative political views. Nor were my colleagues — my best friends in the office were liberal Democrats. But it was understood that our politics were checked at the door. It is required, though, that they remain ever-mindful that the appearance of fairness is as important as the reality. That doesn’t mean opinionated investigators must bow out of politically fraught cases. But they should grasp what makes a case so fraught and remove themselves if particular views they hold could undermine an investigation. Personally, I am not much alarmed that several of Mueller’s staffers have anti-Trump political views. But as more evidence emerges, I have become increasingly disturbed about whether those views will taint perception of the Mueller investigation, particularly in the case of Andrew Weissmann, a key Mueller deputy. A gifted career Justice Department lawyer, Weissmann sent former acting attorney general Sally Yates an effusive email shortly after Yates was fired for insubordinately defying Trump on enforcement of the so-called travel ban. The obstruction aspect of Mueller’s investigation calls for an objective evaluation of how much independence law-enforcement officials have from the chief executive. Weissmann’s lauding of Yates suggests he is not objective on this point.
He believes Mueller's decisions to punish appearances of partisan bias (or actual partisan bias) have been reassuring developments, but says another disciplinary action is in order: "Just as Mueller would not have recruited Strzok had he known of the texts, one imagines he would have passed on Weissmann had he known of his email paean to Yates. Removing Weissmann, just as Mueller removed Strzok, would be a reassuring course correction." As for the overall direction of the investigation, your guess is as good as mine.