Top Senate Republican joins effort to discredit Mueller investigation

Sen. Cornyn says Mueller needs to "clean house of partisans."

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, talks with the media after Senate Republicans met with President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, talks with the media after Senate Republicans met with President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the majority whip, said he wants Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller to “clean house of partisans” — amplifying the Republican drumbeat that the investigation into potential collusion between Russia and members of the Trump campaign cannot be trusted.

Cornyn, the second highest-ranking member of the Senate, tweeted his stance Saturday morning, attempting to clarify a vague tweet from the night before disputing former Attorney General Eric Holder’s warning that the majority of Americans would not tolerate Mueller’s removal.  

However, as national security attorney Bradley P. Moss notes, it is against the law for Mueller to fire, demote, or reassign civil servants for their political affiliation.

Indeed, federal government employees are protected by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 that bars discrimination based on political affiliation. Illinois attorney general candidate Renato Mariotti added that by Cornyn’s logic, FBI Director Christopher Wray should also be fired because he donated to Republicans.

Brookings Institute Fellow Susan Hennessey also noted on Twitter that everyone has political viewpoints but many are still able to work with apolitical integrity, and that Mueller dismissed agent Peter Strzok from the investigation for expressing such views over private text messages with a colleague.

The Republican drumbeats to remove Mueller picked up pace over the past week, after it was learned the special prosecutor investigating Trump’s Russia ties removed Strzok from working the investigation after he sent anti-Trump text messages to a lawyer involved in the probe with whom he was involved romantically. Democrats claim the very release of those texts may have been politically motivated, as the Justice Department’s inspector general said his office was not consulted about the decision to leak the texts.

Conservative media has also been attacking Jeannie Rhee, another member of Mueller’s team who previously represented the Clinton Foundation. 

Republican politicians and right-wing media outlets have been using the unsupported suggestions of a politicized investigation to try and discredit Mueller’s efforts by framing it as biased and riddled with conflicts of interest. Mueller is a decorated Marine veteran who fought in Vietnam and was a registered Republican when he was nominated by former president George W. Bush to serve as FBI director in 2001.

So far, Mueller’s investigation has led to charges against several key Trump appointees and top campaign staff, including former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, whom Trump suggested could be pardoned. Trump’s lawyers are scheduled to meet with Mueller’s team as soon as this week about the status of the investigation.

The noise has been coming from members of Congress, Fox News, and even a pro-Trump super PAC, which has been running an ad on local cable markets calling for four members of Mueller’s team to be fired.

This week, Republican congressmen used a House Judiciary Committee appearance by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the investigation on behalf of the Justice Department, to attack Mueller. And conservative pundits and personalities on Fox have also been on the attack, including Jeanine Pirro, Sean Hannity, and Alan Dershowitz.

The decision to fire Mueller is ultimately up to Rosenstein, who said on Wednesday that he saw no cause to do so. Trump could, however, seek to fire Rosenstein and replace him with someone that would. Trump could also simply empower Rosenstein with the decision