Anger at Mueller burns hot on the right

Anger at Robert Mueller is burning white-hot on the right and in conservative media, where calls for the special counsel to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election have reached a fever pitch.

President Trump has largely held his fire on Mueller, even as the probe into his campaign officials has intensified. White House lawyers are hopeful that the investigation will end soon and absolve the president and his inner circle of wrongdoing.
    
But the influential conservative media outlets that Trump is known to follow closely have been building an expansive case against Mueller.

From Fox News to Breitbart and talk radio, conservative media has been drawing attention to Mueller’s relationship with fired former FBI Director James Comey and his hiring of Democrats for his investigative team. They also argue Mueller has gone far beyond his mandate of investigating Russian interference in the election.

Conservative media has taken a new tack against Mueller in recent weeks, zeroing in on the sale of Canadian mining company Uranium One to the Russia state-owned nuclear firm Rosatom.

Uranium One, at the time of the deal, held licenses for about 20 percent of America’s uranium production capacity. The sale was approved by nine members on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) in 2010, while President Obama was in office. Mueller was the director of the FBI at the time.

But reporting by The Hill has shown that the FBI had knowledge of bribery and racketeering schemes at Tenex, a subsidiary of Rosatom, before CFIUS approved the deal.

Republican lawmakers critical of the deal have questioned whether the FBI shared that information with other members of CFIUS before it was approved — an aspect of the controversy that conservative media has seized upon.

“Robert Mueller, I hope you’re watching, you need to testify under oath,” Fox News host Sean Hannity said earlier this month. “Back in 2009, he was the FBI director, this was when the bureau, the FBI so clearly had this information. He has conflicts of interest. There is no way the American people can trust Robert Mueller to investigate anything Russia-related. For him to be fair and impartial is impossible because of his past role in this. He should resign immediately, tonight.”

The notion that Mueller’s investigation is compromised because of the Uranium One deal has caught on among some Republican lawmakers as well.

"These deeply troubling events took place when Mr. Mueller was the Director of the FBI,” Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzGOP lawmakers demand drafts of DOJ report on Clinton email investigation Live coverage: IG releases watchdog report on FBI, Clinton probe Ryan remarks on Trump ‘spygate’ leave conservatives fuming MORE (R-Fla.) wrote in a resolution demanding Mueller’s resignation earlier this month. “As such, his impartiality is hopelessly compromised. He must step down immediately."

Trump has not directly tied Uranium One to Mueller, but the Obama-era deal is on his radar.

Meanwhile, there is a steady drumbeat of allegations against Mueller building on the right.

The liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America released a study on Tuesday detailing 40 instances in which Hannity has called for Mueller to resign. Guests on Hannity's show have alleged that the special counsel has a “conflict of interest” 220 times, the study found.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board has echoed those calls, arguing that Mueller’s relationship with Comey complicates his investigation.

The paper's board has also questioned whether the FBI’s investigation of possible Trump campaign collusion used an unsubstantiated opposition research memo that was partially funded by Clinton and the Democrats.

“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. “He could best serve the country by resigning to prevent further political turmoil over that conflict of interest.”

Many on the right also argue that Mueller’s indictments extend beyond the scope of his investigation because they don’t pertain to Russian collusion. 

Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has been indicted on a range of financial crimes. Little-known campaign adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about the extent of his contacts with Russian officials, but not to charges related to campaign coordination.

Even the timing of Mueller’s indictments in late October provoked questions on the right.

“It is an odd coincidence that Mueller launched his indictments as he himself became a focus of public scrutiny,” wrote Breitbart’s Joel Pollack. “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,” Pollack wrote. 

Democrats have beat back at the allegations against Mueller, arguing that his reputation is beyond reproach and that efforts to raise questions about his credibility are smear jobs by those who are fearful over what he might find.

Republican leaders in Congress have also defended Mueller's integrity.

"Remember, Bob Mueller is a Republican who was appointed by a Republican, who served in the Republican administration … and stayed on until his term ended,” Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanLaura Ingraham: George Will is ‘sad and petty’ for urging votes against GOP Seth Rogen: I told Paul Ryan I hate his policies in front of his kids George Will: Vote against GOP in midterms MORE (R-Wis.) said earlier this year. “I don't think many people are saying Bob Mueller is a person who is a biased partisan.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMulvaney aims to cement CFPB legacy by ensuring successor's confirmation Senate left in limbo by Trump tweets, House delays Political figures pay tribute to Charles Krauthammer MORE (R-Ky.) has said there is no need to pass legislation protecting Mueller from being fired because there is no indication that Trump intends to do so.

“I think the view up here is, let him do his job,” McConnell said.