During former special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony on Wednesday, Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) took Mueller to task over the personal relationships between the special counsel’s team and the political opponent of the candidate under investigation. He asked about the Mueller team members who attended Hillary Clinton’s campaign parties, represented her and her staff in court, and contributed heavily to her campaign.
The most eye-opening question involved Aaron Zebley, a lawyer Mueller actually brought with him to the hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.
“Aaron Zebley, the guy sitting next to you, represented Justin Cooper, a Clinton aide who destroyed one of Clinton’s mobile devices,” Armstrong noted. Fact check: True.
Zebley, a cybersecurity expert and an attorney, represented Clinton aide Justin Cooper from 2015 to 2016. Cooper played a key role in setting up and managing Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Specifically, he bought Clinton’s server, registered the clintonemail.com domain, and helped set up Hillary Clinton’s mobile communications.
FBI records reveal that “Cooper did recall two instances where he destroyed Clinton’s old mobile devices by breaking them in half or hitting them with a hammer.” This news about Clinton’s destroyed cell phones, along with other reports about the computer getting destroyed, inspired Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)’s hilarious Office Space-style political ad in 2016.
Zebley’s connection to Clinton arguably should have led him to recuse himself from the investigation into whether Donald Trump and his campaign conspired with Russia in the 2016 election. Yet he was far from alone.
Armstrong mentioned the notorious Peter Strzok, whose infamous texts to his paramour Lisa Page revealed terrifying anti-Trump bias within the FBI. “Peter Strzok testified before this committee on July 12, 2018 that he was fired because you were concerned about preserving the appearance of independence. Do you agree with his testimony?” the congressman asked Mueller.
After hemming and hawing — asking for clarification and again asking who made the statement — Mueller finally responded that he did not fire Strzok because he was concerned about the appearance of bias in the investigation. Instead, Mueller said Strzok was transferred.
Armstrong also asked about Andrew Weissman, a DOJ lawyer who attended Clinton’s election night party. The congressman also mentioned an email Weissman wrote to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates saying, “I am so proud and in awe,” after Yates refused to enforce Trump’s ban on travel to countries of terror concern, often demonized as the “Muslim ban.”
When asked about this email, Mueller responded, “I’m not going to talk about that.” When asked whether that email shows a conflict of interest, Mueller added, “Not going to talk about that.”
“Are you aware that Miss Jeannie Rhee represented Hillary Clinton in litigation regarding personal emails originating from Clinton’s time as secretary of State?” Armstrong pressed.
“Yes,” Mueller admitted. Yet he insisted he did not know about Rhee’s role before she joined his team.
“And you must be aware by now that six of your lawyers donated $12,000 directly to Hillary Clinton? I’m not even talking about the $49,000 they donated to other Democrats, just the donations to the opponent who was the target of the investigation,” Armstrong pressed.
At this point, Mueller defended his team, saying he tried to hire the people who would do the job, regardless of political affiliation.
“This isn’t just about you being able to vouch for your team,” Armstrong insisted. “This is about knowing — the day you accepted this role you had to be aware — no matter what this report concluded, half the country was going to be skeptical of your team’s findings. That’s why we have recusal laws that define bias and perceive bias for this very reason. 28 U.S. code 528 specifically lists not just political conflict of interest but the appearance of political conflict of interest.”
“It’s just simply not enough that you vouch for your team,” the congressman explained, noting that “over half of the prosecutorial team had a direct relationship to the opponent of the person being investigated.”
Armstrong posed a hypothetical situation to explain just how noxious this bias is.
“I wonder if not a single word in this entire report was changed but rather the only difference was we switched Hillary Clinton and President Trump. If Peter Strzok had texted those terrible things about Hillary Clinton instead of President Trump, if a team of lawyers worked for, donated thousands of dollars to, and went to Trump’s parties instead of Clinton’s, I don’t think we’d be here trying to prop up an obstruction allegation,” he suggested.
“My colleagues would have spent the last four months accusing your team of being bought and paid for by the Trump campaign and we couldn’t trust a single word of this report. They would still be accusing the president of conspiracy with Russia, and they would be accusing your team of aiding and abetting with that conspiracy,” Armstrong concluded.
That sounds about right.
Trump did take his complaints a bit far by attacking Mueller’s team as “13 Angry Democrats,” but his complaints were based in important facts. The personal connections between the special counsel’s team and Hillary Clinton should be concerning to everyone, and if the shoe were on the other foot, Democrats would be crying foul ’til the cows came home.
It seems particularly noxious that Mueller chose the very lawyer who represented Cooper, the Clinton aide who destroyed Hillary’s cell phones, to accompany him to the hearing. Many of Mueller’s aides should have recused themselves, for the sake of impartiality and justice.
Of the 19 lawyers on Mueller's team, half of them had a direct relationship political or personal with the opponent of who he was investigating.
They donated $12k to Clinton. That's not even counting the $49k donated to other Democrats.
Watch my questions for Mueller: pic.twitter.com/QMrY0x6GEv
— Congressman Kelly Armstrong (@RepArmstrongND) July 24, 2019
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.