The Mueller probe embodies conflict of interest

by LT. COLONEL JAMES G. ZUMWALT, USMC (RET) December 29, 2017

"Something is rotten in Denmark" remains one of the best-known lines from the late 16th century Shakespeare play "Hamlet" - a line referencing the day's festering moral and political corruption.

Four centuries later, it appropriately describes revelations emerging from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation into an alleged Donald Trump/Russia conspiracy impacting the 2016 presidential election.

No stone has gone unturned in the investigation. What is being exposed is chilling - not from evidence relative to the intended investigative target but relative to numerous conflicts of interest involving investigators whose credibility is now questionable.

Federal statutes provide for appointment of a special counsel when determined a criminal investigation into a person or matter is warranted. To ensure impartiality, no special counsel team member should have a conflict of interest related to the investigated issue.

On May 17, Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to investigate the aforementioned allegation after Donald Trump's surprise presidential election victory over Hillary Clinton.

Generating plea deals, Mueller has yet to uncover persuasive evidence of Trump wrongdoing. However, persuasive evidence of others' conflict-of-interest wrongdoings has turned up, seriously undermining the Mueller team's impartiality.

Among them is the Svengali-like role of FBI agent Peter Stzrok. His conduct is worrisome as, prior to working on Mueller's investigative team, he headed the "matter" (not an "investigation" as per then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch's guidance) of Hillary's questionable handling of classified material over her personal email server.

Contributing to exposing Stzrok's role were over 10,000 text messages generated between him and FBI attorney Lisa Page. Members of both investigative teams, the two were also involved in an extramarital affair. Their vile hatred for Trump was obvious from texts containing profane statements he should go "F- himself." It also explains why Stzrok conducted the Hillary email "matter" in a way best described as shocking for an experienced FBI agent.

Stzrok not only allowed Hillary's aides to be present during her questioning, but he also failed to put the former secretary of state under oath. Such sloppiness was irrational - unless Stzrok knew Hillary's answers were immaterial because the investigation's outcome was pre-determined.

We now know FBI Director James Comey had written a draft report months earlier, exonerating Hillary of criminal liability before she was even interviewed. After Mueller's appointment, it was learned Stzrok wordsmithed incriminating verbiage in Comey's draft. It flipped the switch from Hillary's actions being prosecutable to not being so.

While Comey's draft argued no wrongdoing by Hillary, he chose two words to describe her conduct undermining this finding. Those words, "grossly negligent," were exactly what the statute required for culpability. Drawing this to Comey's attention, Stzrok had them replaced, perhaps after first consulting a dictionary for synonyms, with the words, "extremely careless."

An exchange between Stzrok and Page further suggests they, perhaps along with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in whose office the conversation occurred, while confident of a Hillary victory, also sought an "insurance policy" should Trump win. While not detailed, it would not be far-fetched to believe this involved laying a false foundation for a Trump/Russia collusion charge. After all, what did wannabe king-maker Stzrok mean by writing Page, after the election, Trump was a "menace" but "I can protect our country on many levels"? Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee suggests it raises serious questions about an FBI coup to oust Trump.

Yet another conflict involved McCabe, who also worked the Clinton "matter." His wife, Jill, lost an election for Virginia state senator after receiving $500,000 from long-time Clinton friend Terry McAuliffe and another $200,000 from the state Democratic Party - incredible donations for a state senate race.

If a senior agent like Stzrok proved able to influence Comey, he similarly could have influenced Mueller. While Mueller has fired both Stzrok and Page, the question still remains how much anti-Trump influence they sowed before departing.

But Stzrok and Page were not the only ones with dirty conflict-of-interest hands.

In the days prior to the election, Hillary held high hopes an anti-Trump dossier would be released in time to sway voters in her favor. The dossier was prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele, engaged by contractor Fusion GPS, paid for by the Hillary campaign and DNC through a law firm in order to circumvent funding trackability. In the summer of 2016, the dossier was received by Stzrok and re-packaged, appearing more like FBI findings than those of DNC's "hired gun" Fusion.

Outrageously, the Fusion report also may have been the impetus for then-President Barack Obama conducting FISA surveillance on a Trump campaign associate.

Fusion had also hired Nellie Ohr to find dirt on Trump. As it turns out, she formerly worked for the CIA and is the wife of senior DOJ official Bruce Ohr. He, at one point, even secretly met with both Fusion and Steele, an act for which he was recently demoted for not reporting.

The Mueller investigation is one big tainted conflict-of-interest mess. Yet despite this, Democratic Party leaders such as former Attorney General Eric Holder are threatening Trump not to fire Mueller. Undoubtedly encouraged by these threats, the alt-left group "MoveOn.org" issued its own threat to roll out nationwide "rapid response" rallies within hours of a Mueller firing.

Providing ammunition for the "don't-fire-Mueller" crowd was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's congressional testimony Dec. 16 that no good cause existed for firing Mueller. Unsurprisingly, Rosenstein also has his conflict of interest, having approved Hillary's Uranium One deal.

Mueller also is under attack for having possibly obtained documents illegally from the Trump transition team in violation of the attorney-client privilege and the Fourth Amendment.

There is no doubt, had Hillary won and were Mueller now investigating her, Democrats would be screaming foul had so many anti-Hillary conflicts been uncovered.

We will have to see if Trump heeds his own legal advisers who suggest he not fire Mueller.

Is there an honest man left standing on the Mueller team who recognizes "something is rotten in Denmark"? Hopefully, it is Mueller. But, having assembled an investigative team of "despicables," is he willing to do the honorable thing now and resign, allowing a truly impartial special counsel team to conduct the investigation?

A version of this piece also appeared on http://www.wnd.com/    

Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will--Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran--The Clock is Ticking." He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.


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