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Mueller should address conflict issues publicly


Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel to investigate whether there was collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign was greeted with general approval by both sides of the political aisle. Mueller, after all, was considered a no-nonsense lawman who had once led the FBI, and it was the Trump Justice Department that appointed him.

That bipartisan harmony didn’t last long — and James Comey’s testimony before the Senate intelligence committee is a big reason why.

Comey, fired unceremoniously by Trump in what unfortunately has become classic Trump behavior generally lacking in class and manners, essentially said he leaked a memo of his conversation with the president to the news media in an effort to orchestrate the appointment of a special counsel.

And that counsel turns out to be Mueller, his longtime mentor, friend and professional associate — someone Comey once described as “one of the finest people I’ve ever met.”

Mueller was FBI director and Comey a deputy attorney general when they achieved a degree of fame together, in Comey’s telling of it, for convincing a bedridden Attorney General John Ashcroft not to sign off on continuation of a controversial surveillance program during the George W. Bush administration.

All this might not raise eyebrows too much if it weren’t for the fact that there has been no evidence of Russia-Trump campaign collusion brought forward, and Democrats as a practical matter have stopped talking about it. Perhaps that’s partly because Comey conceded Trump wasn’t under investigation and admitted the president told him to pursue the Russia investigation.

Now, they are talking about whether Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice in his dealings with Comey, with more fuel added to that fire with a Washington Post report — yet another leaked story based on sources — that Mueller was in fact investigating Trump for obstruction.

Comey, who hurt his own credibility by admitting he leaked government documents, says the president told him he “hoped” he could see his way clear to end the investigation of Trump’s fired national security adviser, retired Lt. General Michael Flynn — a claim denied by Trump.

If the issue is obstruction of justice, that places Mueller in a much more difficult position because of the key role of Comey, who clearly is angry at Trump for firing him. It also doesn’t help the image of impartiality that Mueller has hired lawyers who were Democrat donors to help in his work.

And impartiality and independence, after all, are the reasons for the appointment of a special counsel.

Mueller has refused to comment on conflict of interest and impartiality concerns raised by Trump allies.

It isn’t clear whether that’s due to Washington, D.C., arrogance or classic law enforcement “no comment” — something Comey used only selectively, as evidenced by his news conference on the Hillary Clinton email server “matter.”

But refusing to address this issue publicly is a mistake.

What we all should want here is the truth — not just on the issues of collusion and obstruction, but also on unmasking and leaking — to be determined in a fair and unbiased manner, and laid out to the American public.

Mueller may well be the best person to bring that forward, and perhaps his relationship with the man who could be his key witness poses no ethical or legal dilemma. But just as no one should be above the law, Mueller shouldn’t be above openly acknowledging and addressing these concerns. The nation will be better off for it.

— Albuquerque Journal


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