There is a way out of the Mueller problem after all.
Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to look into Russian influence in the 2016 election, is an honorable man. He is — or at least was — highly regarded. He was once known for being above the fray. But as Americans are learning, past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Mr. Mueller, so well known as an honorable man, is now being condemned by some as being, if not thoroughly partisan, at least negligent in giving the appearance of impartiality. His critics have a legitimate gripe.
Mr. Mueller himself may be non-partisan, but the people he has hired are liberal Democrats to the core. At least four of them, Andrew Weissmann, James L. Quarles III, Jeannie Rhee and Elizabeth Prelogar contributed to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and Ms. Rhee represented the (almost certainly corrupt) Clinton Foundation.
The Resistance holds that Justice Department rules prohibit Mr. Mueller from taking ideological or political views into consideration when deciding whom to hire. But even if those rules did apply to Mr. Mueller, the proscription must be observed prudentially. Presumably he could not hire 10 unrepentant communists — even if they had voted for Hillary.
Mr. Mueller’s job is not just to investigate: it is, in the end, to produce results that can be considered acceptable by fair-minded people, which means, among other considerations, that it must be non-partisan. If Mr. Mueller’s staff consists of hard-core lefties, the conclusions Mr. Mueller comes to are not likely to be accepted by fair-minded people. Mr. Mueller faces a dilemma.
A. If he finds no wrongdoing on the part of President Trump, his having hired a slew of hard-core lefties will make that conclusion more palatable to the Democrats. But even if they think Mr. Mueller’s conclusions are correct, how likely is it that they will cool their criticism of Mr. Trump?
It is possible that Mr. Mueller has already concluded that Mr. Trump has done nothing improper and so is staffing his team with lefties precisely to make his conclusion more salable to the left. Somehow that just seems as unlikely as coming across three white leopards sitting under a juniper tree.
B. Mr. Mueller’s larger problem is that if he does find fault with Mr. Trump, Republicans are not likely to accept his conclusions given the staffers he has hired. If Mr. Mueller’s instincts told him that Mr. Trump had done wrong, he should have hired primarily Republicans.
If Mr. Mueller has, and has had, no idea what the investigation is likely to reveal, he should have picked a more neutral team. If, with the team he has hired, Mr. Mueller condemns Mr. Trump, the howls from Republicans are likely to be vastly louder than the howls from the Democrats would have been if he had found no fault with Mr. Trump. His conclusion will not be accepted by Republicans and there will therefore be no closure on the issue — which is the whole point of having a special counsel.
Mr. Mueller has brought this on himself. If he had the courage he is reputed to have, he would now resign, realizing that everyone makes mistakes, and the best course of action is to acknowledge them rather than persevere in a fruitless course of action. He would preserve his reputation for another day — and for history. But there is no indication Mr. Mueller is contemplating that course of action.
What to do?
Simply firing Mr. Mueller will not do. All Hell would break lose (“Hell” is capitalized because it’s a place, you know, like Chappaqua). The Never-Trumpers and the Sore-Loser Democrats, with their mainstream media allies, would shut down the government (hmm). Much as Mr. Trump’s base might like that, it is probably not a wise course of action. There is a better way.
Mr. Trump should fire Mr. Mueller and at the same time instruct Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint another special counsel. And, not incidentally, part of the new special counsel’s assignment should be to investigate the leaks at the Justice Department and the FBI. Whatever work has been done will be available to the new team so there will be no need to start over from scratch.
Mr. Trump could list Mr. Mueller’s mistakes and say, quite correctly, that because of the bias of his hires, Mr. Mueller’s conclusions, if critical of the president or any other Republicans, would simply not be accepted by the country.
Yes, the Democrats would howl and the media would have a meltdown — and the price of Schadenfreude would decline ever further.
But justice would be served. A different special counsel could reach a conclusion that would be acceptable to fair-minded Democrats (and unicorns) and Republicans alike.
It was Mr. Mueller’s job to be, and to appear, fair-minded. He has failed. It is now up to Mr. Trump to step in and correct that failure.
• Daniel Oliver is chairman of the board of the Education and Research Institute and a director of Citizens for the Republic.