We thought it was bad then President Donald Trump declared Special Counsel Robert Mueller “disgraced and discredited” in August. The president’s more recent tweets have labeled Mueller “highly conflicted” and described his investigation as “a total mess” that has “gone absolutely nuts” and “a disgrace to our Nation.” Anyone familiar with Mueller’s life and work knows Mueller is a courageous, honorable man who has spent a career defending the country. Anyone who’s skimmed the headlines in the last 18 months has seen the fruit of his investigation.
The very beginning of Mueller’s career is littered with honors and distinctions. In Vietnam, Mueller was awarded the Bronze Star for saving a wounded Marine while under enemy fire. The medal is only awarded to a serviceman who has “distinguished himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service.” He also won the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal twice, and a Purple Heart for enduring a gunshot wound to the leg. After he recovered, he returned to leading his platoon.
As a federal prosecutor, Mueller secured convictions against terrorists, money launderers, corrupt public officials, narcotics rings and the mafia. As a Republican working in Northern California, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., in the 1980s and 1990s, he developed a reputation as “the quintessential straight shooter,” according to another prosecutor.
Mueller was appointed FBI director the week before 9/11, and led the way in preventing another large-scale attack. Appointed by George W. Bush, he was reappointed by Barack Obama and confirmed by a 100-0 vote in the Senate.
When Mueller was appointed by Trump-appointee Rod Rosenstein to head the Russia investigation, Newt Gingrich tweeted, “Robert Mueller is superb choice to be special counsel. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity. Media should now calm down.” Gingrich is hardly a #NeverTrumper. He is a staunch Trump ally who was once considered the front-runner to be Trump’s running mate. Did the Trump administration’s trust with such an important job or Gingrich’s praise disgrace Mueller? Some may think so, but the president shouldn’t.
Even Mueller’s handling of the most sensitive investigation in modern American history has been pristine. He has worked efficiently and — most important — quietly. There have been no leaks from the special counsel’s office in the 18 months since Mueller was appointed.
Far from being “discredited,” Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election has been honest and focused. (That’s more than can be said of most of the government recently.) Including the cases that were transferred to other U.S. attorneys’ offices, the special counsel’s office has secured 37 indictments. Seven of those indictments have resulted in guilty pleas, and the one that went to court, Paul Manafort’s trial in Virginia, ended in convictions on eight federal felony counts.
The thing about a witch hunt is that witches don’t exist. A jury of American citizens, including Trump supporters, decided beyond a reasonable doubt that the crimes Mueller and his team uncovered were real — not made up, mythical or invented by angry partisans.
Most important, Mueller’s indictments have exposed 13 Russian citizens, 12 Russian intelligence officers, and three Russian companies as masterminding the election interference campaign. Although none of these indictments will ever result in a trial, they demonstrate the extensive American capability to detect and track such interference, and they help neutralize those people and companies in the future.
With whom does the president think Mueller has lost credit? Certainly not with Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. Not the American people, who believe that Trump should not fire Mueller by a margin of more than two to one (including a majority of Republicans). Not with Republicans in Congress, who have consistently voiced their support for Mueller (even when they’ve neglected to pass legislation protecting him). The administration demands that Senator Mitch McConnell prevent the special counsel protection bill from getting a vote, likely because they fear it could overcome a filibuster and pass.
There are serious disagreements to be had about what the special counsel should or should not be allowed to investigate (no one believes his remit should be limitless), and his speed and efficiency in conducting his investigation should be praised and encouraged. To claim that Mueller is conflicted or that his investigation is illegitimate is nonsense, especially when the president’s hand-chosen acting attorney general faces a serious constitutional challenge and mounting ethics charges.
Mueller is an honorable man running a clean investigation. All the president’s tweets don’t make it otherwise.