Tags: Trump Administration | trump | allies | mueller | comey | relationship

Trump Team, Allies: Mueller, Comey Relationship a Conflict of Interest

Image: Trump Team, Allies: Mueller, Comey Relationship a Conflict of Interest
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By Sandy Fitzgerald   |   Saturday, 17 Jun 2017 10:00 AM

Members of President Donald Trump's legal team and his allies appear to be making a case that former FBI Directors Robert Mueller and James Comey have a long professional, and likely personal, relationship that could create the appearance of a conflict of interest, even though Mueller has a reputation of integrity.

"Mueller is compromised by the close professional — and I would sure think personal — relationship with Comey," Bill Otis, the former special counsel for President George H.W. Bush told The Hill.  "That is an encompassing standard…that should be interpreted broadly so that the public will have maximum confidence in the outcome of the special counsel's work, however it winds up."

Trump tweeted on Friday that he is being investigated for firing Comey, calling it a "witch hunt."

Comey testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that he was fired after Trump asked him to drop the FBI's investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

This week, reports surfaced that Mueller was investigating if Trump obstructed justice by asking Comey about Flynn.

A Justice Department statute calls for recusal if it appears there is a personal conflict of interest.

However, Mueller's reputation for integrity leads many of his backers to deny that he is compromised by his relationship with Comey.

"This is just an effort to undermine the credibility of the special counsel," Richard Painter, who served as White House ethics attorney for President George W. Bush, told The Hill.

On Friday, Mueller added a dozen top prosecutors with experience in investigations including Watergate, Enron, and even the Mafia, raising speculation that the former FBI director intends to extend the probe into the president's business empire.  

As the probe expands, both Vice President Mike Pence and Trump's personal attorney, have obtained legal counsel, and Painter commented that he'd quit his job if he worked at the White House these days.

"There's no way I'd stick around and wait for someone to throw me under the bus," he said.

Many of Trump's key allies are also complaining that Mueller has hired prosecutors who made donations to Democratic candidates. Ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich this past week accused Mueller of hiring "bad people" for his staff, pointing out that his first four hires were Democrats.

There has also been speculation that Trump could be laying ground work to have Mueller removed as special counsel,  as well as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which officials on both sides warn could lead to impeachment proceedings.

Trump cannot, as president, fire Mueller as special counsel, but must instead make the recommendation to Rosenstein. The deputy attorney general said he won't follow those orders unless they are "lawful and appropriate."

He said he and Trump have not talked about Mueller's appointment, reports Talking Points Memo, but even if they did, Mueller can only be let go for "good cause" and that must be put in writing.

"If there were not good cause, it wouldn’t matter to me what anybody says," said Rosenstein.

Trump, however, could replace Rosenstein with a deputy attorney general who would follow his order to fire Mueller, but that would be a grave mistake, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Thursday.

“If the president thinks he can fire Deputy Atty. Gen. Rosenstein and replace him with someone who will shut down the investigation, he’s in for a rude awakening," the California Democrat said, reports The Los Angeles Times.

"Even his staunchest supporters will balk at such a blatant effort to subvert the law."

Another California Democrat, Rep. Ted Lieu, said Friday night if Trump fires Rosenstein and then gets Mueller fired, he believes Trump would be impeached.

"All Americans, regardless of party, agree on the fundamental principle that no one is above the law,” Lieu, D-California, told MSNBC's Chris Hayes Friday night. "If President Trump were to fire Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, and then [get] special counsel Mueller fired, I believe Congress would begin impeachment proceedings.”

Trump Friday tweeted a slam on Rosenstein, saying he was under investigation by Rosenstein, "the man who told me to fire the FBI director."

Some the legal community are saying Rosenstein should stay on, to protect the investigation's integrity, but others say he will need to recuse himself because he wrote the memo the Trump administration at first said was the justification for firing Comey, although Trump later said he'd made the decision himself.

Meanwhile, former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who oversaw the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky probes during former President Bill Clinton's administration, said in an Washington Post op-ed Thursday that Trump should "not threaten, much less order" Mueller to be fired.

"Subject to the possibility of being fired for 'good cause,' Mueller should be allowed to do his work unhindered and unimpeded," wrote Starr.

"Absent the most extreme circumstances, the president would be singularly ill-advised to threaten, much less order, Mueller's firing."

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Members of President Donald Trump's legal team and his allies appear to be making a case that former FBI Directors Robert Mueller and James Comey have a long professional, and likely personal, relationship that could create the appearance of a conflict of interest, even...
trump, allies, mueller, comey, relationship
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2017-00-17
 

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