Republican activists and lawmakers are participating in a multiple attack against the special council of Robert S. Mueller III on possible connections between President Trump's associates and Russian agents, trying to stop or restrict the investigation as advance in President Trump's inner circle.
For months, the president and his allies have taken advantage of any hint of possible impropriety from Mueller's team or the FBI to argue that the Russian investigation is stacked against Trump, possibly generating the necessary political support to discard the special advice.
Several law enforcement officials said they were concerned that the steady pace of conservative criticism seems designed to erode Mueller's credibility, making him more politically acceptable to eliminate, restrict or simply ignore his recommendations as his investigation proceeds.
Fox News Channel staff Sean Hannity, one of the president's informal advisors, as well as one of his most vocal supporters, on Tuesday night called Mueller "a disgrace to the American judicial system" and said that his team is "corrupt, biased and political".
Several conservative lawmakers held a press conference on Wednesday demanding more details of how the FBI proceeded last year in its investigations into the use of personal email and electoral interference by Hillary Clinton. Earlier this week, the conservative Judicial Watch group published an internal email from the Justice Department that, according to the group, showed political bias against Trump by one of Mueller's top prosecutors.
Fresh ammunition arrived this weekend, when it was revealed that Peter Strzok, the main FBI agent on Mueller's team, had been removed by politically charged text messages he had exchanged with another former member of Mueller's team, FBI senior attorney Lisa Page. The texts seemed to favor Clinton and discredit Trump, according to people familiar with the matter.
"The question really is whether Mueller was doing a great job investigating the Russian collusion, why could not he have found the conflict of interests within his own agency? & # 39; & # 39; Representative Mark Meadows (RN.C.) asked at the press conference.Meadows, leader of the Freedom Conclave, cited a litany of other issues that he said show bias on the part of the FBI and Mueller, including past political donations from lawyers on Mueller's team.
An FBI spokesman declined to comment. [1
Mueller won a public vote of confidence on Wednesday by Deputy Prosecutor General Rod Rosenstein, the senior Justice Department official who oversees the investigation into Russia, although Rosenstein did not address Strzok's investigation. In an interview with NBC, Rosenstein was asked if he was satisfied with what he had seen so far from the special lawyer's office, and he replied that he did, and noted that some public charges had been filed. "We are not in a position to talk about anything else that may be happening," he said.
Mueller noticed for the first time in late July the text messages exchanged between Page and Strzok, who had been involved in an adventure, according to people familiar with the matter, which, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal deliberations.
Strzok was immediately removed from work and transferred to the FBI human resources division, which was widely understood by his colleagues as a demotion. Officers have said that Page left Mueller's team two weeks earlier for unrelated reasons.
Trump tweeted this weekend that the FBI's reputation was "in rags"
On Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) signed letters to the Department of Justice and the FBI demanding more information about Strzok's communications.
"Increases the behavior and participation of Strzok in these two politically sensitive new concerns of inappropriate political influence in the work of the FBI", wrote Grassley in one of the letters.
Matthew Miller, a Democrat and former Justice Department spokeswoman, said Grassley is part of a Republican effort to undermine Mueller's long-term credibility.
"First, they want to dust the dust on Hillary Clinton so the conservative press has Something to talk about that is not Trump's misdeeds, "Miller said. "The ultimate goal, however, is to delegitimize Mueller in such a way that he can be fired or ignored if he concludes that the president violated the law."
A spokesman for Grassley called Miller's comment "an unfounded charge by a Democratic agent" and said the senator has a "record of three decades of government oversight through administrations."
Grassley also called Mueller an "honorable person" whose investigation should be allowed to "play."
Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, has called for Mueller's investigation to be closed, saying his prosecutors are simply too prejudiced against the president to carry out a credible investigation.
Fitton said the Department of Justice and the FBI "hid" the Strzok problem for months. "That's a scandal," he said. "Rosenstein needs to explain what he was doing, what he knew and when, and Mueller needs to be explained as well, I think Mueller has fewer followers in the Republican establishment, so he let it happen."
The email published by Judicial Watch this week was sent by Andrew Weissmann, now on Mueller's team, in January, when he was a senior Justice Department official in the criminal division. After then-Attorney General Sally Yates was fired for instructing department employees not to defend Trump's first travel ban in court, Weissmann sent her a note saying he was "so proud and amazed" at her. Judicial Watch said the email shows that Weissmann is biased against the president.
In Congress, an effort by a Republican legislator to ensure that Mueller can not be fired suddenly has lost steam.
Senator Thom Tillis (RN.C.), who in August issued a law to prevent Trump from dismissing Mueller without cause, said on Wednesday that he felt no urgency for the Senate to take it into account.
"Based on what happened with Flynn and some of the reports from last week, I'm not too worried about having to move quickly," Tillis said. He called his bill a measure of "good governance" that lawmakers will continue to discuss.
Tillis offered a mixed review of the Mueller probe.
"Some of the questions raised about some people in the FBI and their behavior and possible prejudices make them want to go back and observe the role they played and if there was some bias that was woven into some results or observations they did," said Tillis . "But, overall, I'm satisfied with the way he's progressing."
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker (Republican for Tennessee), one of Trump's most outspoken critics of his party, said he could not imagine the president shooting Mueller.
"I can not imagine being fired," Corker said. "For me, that would be a step too far."
Regarding the way in which Mueller's investigation is being carried out, Corker refused to comment. "I have almost no knowledge of how it is proceeding," he said.