A Glance Back at the Political Imbalance of Mueller’s Team

Despite Robert Mueller’s Russian probe vindicating President Trump on the Russian collusion charge, many people continue to wonder about the perception of political bias in the investigation team’s very makeup. In fact, Bernard Goldberg received a question about it in this week’s Premium Q&A session (for this Friday), which prompted this column.

As was pointed out a number of times over the past couple of years (including by the president himself), most of the lawyers on Mueller’s crew were indeed registered Democrats. 13 of the 16 in fact, with some reports suggesting that a couple others (despite having no party affiliation) lean left as well. The only confirmed Republican of the bunch was Mueller himself.

On its face, it’s perfectly understandable why people were at least concerned about partisan bias potentially affecting the outcome of the investigation. After all, we live in very politically polarizing times. Just about everyone has a strong view of President Trump. And while political affiliation doesn’t inherently preclude professionals from performing their jobs professionally, it certainly invites such a perception.

Trump and many media-conservatives had no qualms at all with portraying that perception as a reality. Despite knowing virtually nothing about what was going on in the investigation, they declared it to be a politically corrupt “Deep State” operation. And their audiences ate it up.

Conversely, people in the liberal media largely (and unsurprisingly) shrugged off the bias concern as a nothingburger. With the numbers on the investigation team stacked politically in their favor, why would they object or even bother to dig for an explanation? No harm, no foul. Their audiences likely felt the same way.

Of course, both sides would have had opposite takes if Obama were president and at least 13 members of the team looking into his actions were Republicans. After all, partisanship is a hell of a drug.

Neither side felt inclined to explain to its viewers and readers what possible, legitimate reason Mueller might have had for selecting a politically lopsided team. I certainly didn’t see any such analysis on television or in major publications, and Googling the topic doesn’t provide much help either. Maybe someone — somewhere — touched on it, but the answer isn’t readily available.

Still, there is indeed a reasonable explanation — one that I’ve been sharing in this site’s comment section and on social media for quite some time. With the question still coming up, I figured I’d write a column to address it to a larger audience.

Last May, I attended a Weekly Standard event Colorado Springs, Colorado. One of the featured speakers was then Republican U.S. Congressman Trey Gowdy. Gowdy, as many people know, has an extensive legal background. He was a federal prosecutor and was at the forefront of multiple congressional investigations. He’s also well respected among Republicans and colleagues.

Anyway, during a question and answer session with members of the audience, Gowdy was asked about this very topic. The attendee who put forth the question seemed certain that the disproportionate number of Democrats on Mueller’s team was indicative of a political hit-job. Gowdy, to the surprise of many, disagreed.

Gowdy explained that Mueller didn’t have the authority to draft or force people onto his Special Counsel team. Individuals had to be willing to do it, and put forth interest in the job (essentially applying for it). In other words, Mueller chose from a pool of applicants, not a dream team. And the reality, as Gowdy stated, is that politically-affiliated lawyers do not want to serve on a team that’s investigating a president from their own party. That’s because doing so would be potentially harmful to their own careers. Thus, they tend not to apply.

So, when someone like Mueller is choosing the people he believes are the most qualified, from a politically disproportionate group of applicants, he’s going to end up with a politically disproportionate team. That’s just the way it goes.

To me and those in attendance that night, the explanation made perfect sense. And whenever I relay Gowdy’s explanation to others, it seems to make sense to them too. But what about those who didn’t have the benefit of sitting in a small auditorium in Colorado Springs that night? Well, they were largely left to draw their own conclusions.

That’s not just a shame, but also a journalistic injustice. Why weren’t people in the media presenting this information? I think I know the answer.

The conservative media didn’t want to explore this issue because it was far more convenient, and accommodating to the audience, to vilify the investigators for having the gall to probe the man they’re loyal to. The liberal media either didn’t care enough about the issue, or perhaps felt that the premise of Democratic partisans holding Trump’s fate in their hands was too delicious of a fantasy to ruin for their audience.

Whatever the reasons, the public was not served well by leaving the solving of such a potentially consequential riddle up to widespread armchair speculation — especially when the answer was so easily attainable from anyone who understood the process.

This is what happens when political narratives are deemed more valuable than simply clearing the air.

Pre-order Safeguard, by John A. Daly

Poll: What’s Your Reaction to the Mueller Report?

On Sunday, Attorney General William Barr provided Congress and the public with a summary of main conclusions from Robert Mueller’s investigation on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Among those conclusions: President Trump did not collude with the Russians.

What’s your reaction?

Coming Soon

Trump Blames Mueller for Poor Relations with Russia

President Trump started off Wednesday with a tweet that grabbed quite a bit of attention:

It was uncharacteristically tough talk against Russia — perhaps the most combative rhetoric our president has ever used against Vladimir Putin. While Trump has traditionally felt more inclined to flatter or make excuses for the Russian president, Wednesday was different. Trump called out Putin for his partnership with the murderous Assad regime, and promised to defy Russia’s wishes in the form of U.S. missile strikes in Syria.

The message was clear: Russia’s the bad guy, America’s the good guy, and our country is finally going to do something about those chemical-weapon strikes on Syrians.

But less than an hour later, on Twitter again, the president’s tone on Russia was a little more nuanced:

While U.S. relations with Russia are undeniably bad (and perhaps getting worse), it would be pretty tough for someone to make a reasonable case that things are worse now than during the Cold War. I would venture to say that the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example, was a more tense situation for the United States than the one we’re currently dealing with.

But that’s a side argument. The more significant takeaway from this tweet is the notion that there is “no reason” for this bad relationship. Did the president honestly forget what he had tweeted just minutes earlier about Russia aligning itself with the likes of Bashar al-Assad? How about Russia’s unprecedented interference in our 2016 election? Those seem like reasons to me, and there are plenty more to choose from.

But things got much weirder almost an hour and a half later, when President Trump returned to Twitter with this dandy:

So now, “much” of our poor relationship with Russia is not the fault of anything Putin’s doing, but rather Robert Mueller and his Justice Department investigation team.

You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

While it’s legitimate (though possibly not wise considering the public’s lack of knowledge of the investigation) to question whether or not Mueller’s team has exceeded its bounds, the investigation has absolutely nothing to do with the problems that exist between the United States and Russia. Claiming otherwise is patently absurd.

I know, I know. Because Trump’s “not a seasoned politician,” we’re supposed to judge him by his deeds and not his words. That’s the message often echoed by his supporters whenever the president says something as stupid as this.

But I never have and never will subscribe to that mindset. While a president’s actions are undeniably important, so are his words. And when an American president declares that our nation’s problems with (whom most people now seem to agree is) our “top geopolitical foe” are the fault of U.S. Justice Department investigators who are looking into that foe’s interference in our free elections, that’s a big deal.

Will Trump follow through with his vow to strike Assad’s forces, in defiance of Russia? Almost certainly. But now there’s a narrative (put forth by the leader of the free world himself) that we’ve gotten to this point because of something having to do with Robert Mueller’s investigation, and by extension our national institutions.

What kind of signal does that send to other governments, and even American citizens?

Sadly, the inclination to Blame America First, when it comes to international tensions, didn’t end with the Obama administration. That sentiment is still very much alive in the Oval Office, fueled by one man’s ego.

And if you were one of those people (like me) who thought such rhetoric was damaging to our country back then, why don’t you think so now?

Order John A. Daly’s award-winning novel, Broken Slate