Republicans in Congress on Wednesday expressed confidence in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion by President Trump and his campaign, although pockets of skepticism are emerging.
Republicans said they have faith in the propriety of the Mueller probe, amid revelations that former members of the special counsel’s investigatory team were potentially biased in favor of Trump's former Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. Republicans are urging Trump against firing Mueller and quashing the probe, even as they highly doubt the president colluded with Moscow and worry that the investigation is swelling beyond its original scope.
“I know Mueller to be an honorable person. He’s going to do a thorough investigation. Just let it play out,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has raised questions about the probe.
Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., a Trump ally, said he’s “incredibly concerned” with reports that some FBI agents might have openly favored Clinton and unfairly scrutinized the president. But the congressman said he is not ready to join some House Republicans' call to defund a Mueller probe that has run up a tab of about $7 million over five months.
“I’m not there; I have concerns,” Duffy said. "Hopefully they’ll stick with Russia, Russia, and Russia, and don’t expand beyond that.”
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a Trump appointee, tapped Mueller as special counsel after the president fired James Comey as FBI director. The FBI had been investigating whether Russia meddled in the 2016 election, primarily on Trump’s behalf, and whether the president, when he was a candidate, colluded with Moscow to beat Clinton.
In an interview with the NBC News affiliate in Washington, Rosenstein said he is satisfied with Mueller and the investigation as it has unfolded. Trump is not, raging to associates and, on Twitter, insisting that it is a witch hunt.
Mueller, a former FBI director, has long maintained a reputation for integrity and fairness.
But his investigation was rocked by disclosures that he had to remove an FBI agent, Peter Strzok, who was part of his team, for sending text messages critical of Trump to another agent with whom he was having an affair. Strzok also is alleged to have possibly exhibited favoritism toward Clinton during the FBI investigation into her use of a private email server.
Another member of Mueller’s team was discovered to have sent a note of praise to Sally Yates when the then-acting attorney general refused a White House directive to implement the first incarnation of Trump’s travel ban impacting mostly Muslim countries.
“I’ve got concerns over some of the players, not necessarily Mueller,” Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said. “It’s interesting the revelations that are coming out with some of these people that are involved — their political leanings, the text messages … It’s concerning to people in my district.”
Mueller hasn’t come up empty. So far he has brought indictments against Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and two other former campaign advisers, as well as Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser in the White House and a major player on his campaign.
The charges against them involve lying to the FBI and violations of other laws, although nothing involving collusion. Some legal analysts believe Mueller is building a case against Trump, other experts contend that this is proof of Trump’s innocence and evidence that the special counsel’s probe is running amok and focused on charging the president with obstruction of justice.
Republicans have enough faith in Mueller and are worried enough about Russian meddling in the last and future elections, that they want the special counsel’s investigation to conclude without interference from the White House.
Concern about political blowback in the 2018 elections, were Trump to fire Mueller, also fuels anxiety. It is another factor in their quiet-but-clear warnings to the president that he should leave the special counsel in place.
“Right now, I don’t have any reason to doubt the progress that they’re making,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said. Firing Mueller would be a "big mistake," added Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Republican in Congress.
“I’d let him conclude his work, and hopefully that will happen soon,” Thune said.