The coming media spin on this story is fairly obvious. It’s a back door route for Trump to get rid of Bob Mueller without all the muss and fuss of having to fire him and the attendant cries of obstruction from Democrats which would immediately follow. But Trent Franks, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, may just have a point here. Maybe. Possibly.
The take on the current Russia investigation from Franks is that Mueller is laboring under a conflict of interest. The reason? He’s too friendly with James Comey, setting himself up for charges of partisan chicanery. (Daily Caller)
Republican Arizona Rep. Trent Franks says that Robert Mueller is in “clear violation” of federal law prohibiting a special counsel from having a conflict of interest and therefore must immediately resign as special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation.
Mueller’s reported friendship with former FBI director James Comey presents a clear conflict of interest, according to Franks, who is a senior member on the House Judiciary Committee. Federal law defines a conflict of interest as: “a personal relationship with any person substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution.”
“Bob Mueller is in clear violation of federal code and must resign to maintain the integrity of the investigation into alleged Russian ties. Those who worked under them have attested he and Jim Comey possess a close friendship, and they have delivered on-the-record statements effusing praise of one another,” said Franks.
The problem with the conflict of interest charge in this scenario (well, one of the problems) is that the phrase “personal relationship” is rather gauzy. Franks goes on to point out that Mueller and Comey used to work together under George W. Bush. Then one followed the other as head of the FBI. And it’s true that they’re on record as praising each other’s competence, with some going so far as to say they’ve, “spoken warmly of each other.”
But is that enough to establish a “personal relationship” as opposed to a normal professional relationship? They are two senior leaders coming from the ranks of the FBI. That’s the normal place you’d be looking for a special prosecutor (or one of the most likely places anyway) so there’s little chance that they wouldn’t know each other and have some history of working together. And that would go for almost anyone else from high up in the Bureau that you picked to replace Mueller. And obviously they would speak of each other in a supportive fashion in public because you want to project good team morale and all that usual goodness.
Franks can demand that Mueller step down, but if he refuses I’m not sure there’s much they can do about it. And as I said above, the next person may have the same questions hanging over their head unless they go for somebody from the Justice Department. (Not sure how that would work.) The bigger concern at this point is Mueller’s staff, comprised largely of maxed out Hillary donors. Perhaps the committee should be looking more closely at them before calling for Mueller to vacate the premises.
UPDATE: (Jazz) It’s been pointed out to me that there may be a bit stronger case to make for that relationship. For your consideration, here’s a video of Mueller where he discusses Comey as part of a speech about 9/11. And here’s another of Comey speaking.