One Year In: This is Why Donald Trump Is Terrified Of Robert Mueller
Since the inception of the FBI in 1908, only two men have gone on to lead it for more than the imposed ten-year term limit. The first, of course, was J. Edgar Hoover — the Bureau’s first director after its transition from the BOI to the Federal Bureau of Investigation we know today.
The second is the special counsel currently overseeing what could be the most important investigation of our time.
Robert Mueller — FBI Director under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, whose career covered over a decade of terrorist attacks, wars, and political tête-à-têtes — was appointed to lead the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential election one year ago. Since then, the investigation has indicted 22 entities, brought 75 criminal charges, yielded 5 guilty pleas, sentenced one person, and rattled one very nervous president.
The possibility of collusion between Moscow and the President’s campaign overwhelmed Trump’s first months in office and led to the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Leading such a challenging investigation has proven to require patriotic values the likes of which aren’t often seen in this day and age.
Luckily, challenges that test the very soul of our country are where Robert Mueller comes to eat.
A former Marine, Mueller attended Princeton University, New York University and the University of Virginia’s law school. He served as a U.S. Attorney for both the Districts of Massachusetts and Northern California, and as an assistant attorney general under George H.W. Bush before being appointed to lead the FBI. During his time in Officer Candidate School before enlisting, he received only one demerit — a fact which underscores all one needs to know about the man’s work ethic. In his studies, Mueller only received a failing grade in one category — “Delegation.”
When the planes hit the Twin Towers in 2001, Mueller had been the Director of the FBI for just over a week. He had been confirmed by a 98–0 vote in the Senate and was just starting to get his feet wet when the country was rocked by the worst terrorist attack in American history. The fact that the FBI even survived this time period — which would reveal a myriad of intelligence blunders before the attack — is a testament to Mueller’s stellar reputation. Well known as a strongly nonpartisan and apolitical authority figure, his time at the FBI categorizes him as the very definition of a public servant.
After serving under Bush and Obama for a decade, he was reappointed for an extended two-year term, which required a special act of Congress. This came just over a week after U.S. Special Forces had killed Osama Bin Laden in a midnight raid in Pakistan. When announcing his intention to keep Mueller on, Obama described him as setting “the gold standard for leading the bureau.”
This decision might be the only thing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Obama have ever agreed upon.
Brothers In Arms
During the hectic years directly following the 2001 attacks, Mueller would go on to form a long-lasting relationship with his former Justice Department colleague James Comey. The two had run in the same Washington circles, but the chaos that ensued after 9/11 cemented their friendship. Both men were former prosecutors who left the private sector in hopes of more satisfying (and less lucrative) public service. Detailed note takers, they exhibit the same exhaustive long game mentality often found in the most elite intelligence officials.
In 2004, Comey called upon his friendship with Mueller during a late night political showdown that reads more like something out of a Sorkin drama than a debate on domestic surveillance. In a paranoid post-9/11 world, the Bush White House implemented a domestic surveillance program codenamed STELLARWIND. This program involved the data mining of a large database of communications of American citizens — including the collection of email, telephone, and internet conversations/activity.
When it came up for reauthorization in 2004, Comey argued that there was no legal basis for the program and that the reach extended far beyond constitutional support. As acting Attorney General — AG John Ashcroft was incapacitated at the time — Comey’s authorization was needed for the program to continue.
On a late March night, the White House Chief of Staff and the White House Counsel made their way to the George Washington Hospital in an attempt to countermand Comey and get John Ashcroft to reauthorize STELLARWIND, despite him having delegated all responsibility regarding the program. Fearing that his position as Deputy Attorney General left him expendable, Comey turned to Mueller’s reputation to end the showdown. He called the head of the FBI and asked him to order the FBI to not comply with requests to remove Comey from the room.
Mueller headed to the hospital himself — his objectivity and independence a barrier to the manipulation of Ashcroft. Although Ashcroft was not swayed by this attempt to circumvent Comey’s authority and supported the acting Attorney General both formally and on legal substance, the President still wanted to reauthorize the program.
In a moment that seems to foreshadow current events, Bush invited Comey to dinner. During the time the dinner was taking place — in which Bush displayed his famed Southern hospitality by offering to take the burden of STELLARWIND off of Comey’s shoulders — members of the Justice Department were preparing their letters of resignation over the reauthorization of the program. Comey, a man whose faithful trust in our country’s institutions can serve as his personal Achilles heel, knew he needed the clout of someone with an unbreakable reputation — a person who even a President with a majority approval rating could not survive losing. After exhausting his appeals to the President’s religious and moral ideology, Comey revealed his final hand. He told the President,
“I think you should know that Director Mueller is going to resign today.”
In a turn of events that shows a stark contrast to the current administration’s relationship with the FBI, the President balked. He called Mueller immediately and, realizing the Deputy Attorney General’s words were true, gave full authority over STELLARWIND back to Comey.
James Comey, a man who made headlines for his nearly cinematic testimony regarding these events, wasn’t able to change the President’s mind on legal or political grounds. Even quoting Martin Luther didn’t do the trick. In the end, it wasn’t respect for the Constitution or respect for Christian theology that stopped the reauthorization of STELLARWIND.
In the end, it was respect for Robert Mueller.
The Special Counsel America Needs
As special counsel, Mueller has inherited a slew of existing federal probes regarding possible Trump-Russia collusion. These investigations cover the President’s son, Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law and senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner, as well as former associates Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Carter Page, Roget Stone, and more.
In preparation, he assembled a formative team, with experience that runs from Enron to the Mafia. Notably, he’s tapped his longtime law-firm partner James Quarles – who got his start nearly 40 years ago as an assistant Watergate prosecutor – and Andrew Weissman, head of the Justice Department’s criminal fraud unit.
Mueller has taken an expansive view on the probe. In non-legalese, that means this investigation is probably going to take way longer than people on Twitter would like. In past cases, such as his investigation into the NFL’s handling of Ray Rice’s domestic violence incident, Mueller has proven himself to be restrained, yet decisive. He has a track record of exhaustive, detailed work that remains precisely within the scope of his job description. During the four months he spent delving into the NFL’s operation – something that included making over 938 phone calls and sorting through millions of documents – he stayed firmly in his lane. This conservative approach to justice is part of what has garnered the prosecutor such bipartisan respect – as well as bipartisan critique.
Aggressive, thorough, and concise are all words that can describe Mueller and his team’s handling of all their respective former cases. Their objectivity matches that of the man that has assembled them all. They have pledged no loyalty except to that of service to the American people. These men aim to uphold the Constitution and rule of law, and there is no doubt this will show through the current investigation. This ideology is summed up succinctly in a speech given by Mueller:
“The rule of law, civil liberties, and civil rights – these are not our burdens. They are what makes all of us safer and stronger.”
There is very little chance that the American public will find full satisfaction with Mueller’s investigation. There will be those that claim he did too little, and those who claim he overstepped his bounds. However, for those that know the man – those that remember his steadfast devotion to the American people during the ultimate test of our strength as a nation – will remember his dedication to justice and, perhaps, sleep a little easier tonight.