Concerns about political bias among members of the task force looking into Russian interference in the presidential election are not a legitimate reason to shut down the investigation or challenge its validity. Any additional charges brought by special prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III will be adjudicated under the rule of law, which offers avenues to protect defendants against wrongful prosecution.
President Trump’s statement that he’s not considering firing Mueller is welcome news. Any such move would undermine the public’s trust in the independent investigative process. But the fact that an FBI investigator assigned to the investigation had previously traded anti-Trump and pro-Clinton text messages with a colleague is unfortunate. We would expect investigators at any level to be more professional with regard to their personal political attitudes, especially when they are in a position to investigate a particular politician.
The offending agent has appropriately been discharged from the probe, which at this point should be sufficient remedy for the concerns. Republican members of Congress calling for an investigation into the handling of the Russian probe are obviously attempting to lay groundwork to challenge the results should they implicate members of the administration. Conservative media outlets are parroting their complaints, creating a dangerous atmosphere corrosive to public trust in vital law enforcement institutions.
It’s good to see top Republicans in the Senate and officials of the Justice Department openly vouch for Mueller’s integrity and rebuke calls for his removal from the investigation. As Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “I’ve got confidence in Mueller, as far as what he’s doing in the Trump-Russia investigation, and I don’t have any reason to believe otherwise.”
Those behind the anti-Mueller campaign may hope that a drumbeat of criticism toward the handling of the investigation will mute public outrage should the administration attempt to fire Mueller, or if his investigation ends up implicating high-ranking administration officials. But up to this point, that’s all a matter of speculation and those on both sides of the debate ought to wait quietly and see what comes of the special prosecutor’s work. It is possible the investigation will clear the White House of any overt collusion in Russian meddling. If it does, what would Mueller’s current critics say then about his objectivity?
There is already ample evidence that Russian interests acted to influence the 2016 election. Whether those efforts actually affected the outcome of the vote is not the point. The processes of American democracy must be shielded against malicious interference. While members of the administration have referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt,” the special prosecutor is not likely to bring charges without sufficient evidence. Should evidence be manipulated or manufactured, or should exculpatory evidence be ignored, there are remedies under the law. Whether members of the Trump administration are somehow complicit in any meddling is an important question that needs to be thoroughly explored for the sake of public trust in the presidency, as well as in the electoral process. It is irresponsible to try and disrupt that process by stoking partisan concerns in the court of public opinion before the matter has even entered a courtroom.