Robert Mueller has now completed his special counsel assignment, but he may yet have a role to play in the unraveling Russia conspiracy. It is entirely possible that he will come to regret ever being appointed to investigate the phony collusion allegations against President Donald Trump. The fact that congressional Democrats – along with certain Republicans – are determined to haul him before House and Senate committees is only the beginning of what could become a very messy end to Mueller’s legacy of public service.
Mueller is on a collision course with Attorney General William Barr. The latter clearly believes that various government officials may have acted improperly, to say the least, during the 2016 presidential election campaign and in the months leading up to Mueller’s appointment. Abuses of power and unjustified and, perhaps, improperly authorized surveillance – or spying – may have occurred. Judges may have been misled and FISA warrants fraudulently obtained. An extensive political conspiracy against then-candidate, now-President Trump may have been working behind the scenes.
Justice Department’s Multi-Pronged Investigation
Barr is determined to get to the bottom of it all. Michael Horowitz, the inspector general for the Department of Justice, has already investigated possible political bias at the FBI and how it might have affected both the Clinton private email server investigation and the counterintelligence operation that targeted Trump campaign associates. Horowitz then took on a new task, described on the inspector general website as: “Examination of the Department’s and the FBI’s Compliance with Legal Requirements and Policies in Applications Filed with the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Relating to a certain U.S. Person.”
The IG’s final report on this matter is expected at any time. Horowitz has no subpoena or prosecutorial power, but elements of his report could be fed into other ongoing DOJ investigations. Those investigations are numerous. Their exact purpose and progress are being closely guarded by the DOJ though it is known that some of them relate to unauthorized leaks to – and the illegal acceptance of gifts from – members of the media by former FBI officials.
Two other investigations, being conducted by federal prosecutors, concern potential abuses by the FBI and DOJ of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
All of these investigations converge on the genesis of the FBI operation, codenamed Crossfire Hurricane, that began in 2016 and continued up until Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel. At that point, the FBI handed off its investigation to Mueller. A team was put in place to handle the transition and bring the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) up to speed. Unless something went very wrong, the FBI would have handed over most of whatever intelligence and other materials it had gathered during Crossfire Hurricane.
Just When Mueller Thought He Was Out
At this point, Mueller would have become one of the few people who knew everything about Crossfire Hurricane and the predication for its birth. It stands to reason, then, that the multi-pronged investigation, overseen by AG Barr, to find out why the FBI operation began and how it was conducted, will reach out to touch Mueller himself.
Considering the position Mueller occupied as the man who held in his hands the fate of a sitting president, there are some very big questions that need to be answered: How aware was Mueller that the FBI based its counterintelligence operation upon unverified opposition research paid for by Trump’s election opponent and upon comments solicited from Trump campaign people by FBI and CIA informants?
If Mueller was entirely unaware of these facts, then the FBI withheld from him information vital to his own investigation. If he was aware of them, then he knew from the beginning that his own assigned task was rooted in political mischief and undercover surveillance of U.S. citizens. That would mean he either ignored or concealed wrongdoing within the senior ranks of the FBI.
Another question only Mueller can answer: At what point did he come to the realization that there was no coordination or conspiracy between Russian officials and Trump associates with regard to the 2016 election? How long after that realization did he continue to investigate – and why?
There can be little doubt that Mueller was well aware that the FBI had used, as the centerpiece of its investigation, the so-called Steele dossier. It is hardly believable that the special counsel was unaware of its provenance as a collection of uncorroborated gossip and allegations, compiled by Christopher Steele for use by the Clinton campaign against Trump; after all, Mueller’s number two at the Office of Special Counsel was Andrew Weissman. Weissman – a staunch Clinton partisan – was previously a senior FBI official who was well aware of the existence and nature of the Steele dossier.
If the DOJ concludes, then, that Crossfire Hurricane was a politically-motivated fabrication involving fraudulently obtained FISA warrants to spy on Trump associates, the further conclusion that the Mueller investigation was an extension of that conspiracy is virtually unavoidable. How could the DOJ possibly pursue its investigations to completion without questioning Mueller, Weissman, and perhaps numerous other individuals who worked at the OSC?
Trump has often described Mueller as “conflicted.” It may be that the president knows far more than anyone realizes or his use of that word may be nothing more than a comment on Mueller’s association with former FBI Director James Comey, whose firing ushered in Mueller’s appointment. Whatever the answer, it seems increasingly likely that former special counsel was, indeed, extremely “conflicted.” He may become a key witness in Barr’s investigatory endeavors – and being only a witness could be the most fortunate outcome for Robert Mueller.
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