Should we have faith in special counsel Robert Mueller? Half of Americans doubt that his eventual report will be “fair and even-handed,” according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that was completed the day before Mueller indicted Roger Stone for false testimony and obstruction of justice.
The indictment refers to contact between Stone and senior officials in President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign regarding damaging material that WikiLeaks and Russia had obtained on Hillary Clinton. Trump, meanwhile, took to Twitter — again — to label Mueller's investigation a “WITCH HUNT!”
So, can we, the American people, trust the Mueller investigation? Is it fair? Is it being conducted ethically? Who should we believe when the president tells us we can’t trust law enforcement?
On the one hand, it’s bizarre to even ask such a question. It is well known that Mueller is a Marine veteran and a career public servant who has capably demonstrated his loyalty to the rule of law through decades of service at the Justice Department and the FBI. When he was selected as special counsel, Republicans, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, publicly voiced complete confidence in him.
Mueller leads a team of highly qualified public servants who have worked at Justice for many years, without regard to which party holds the presidency at any particular time. Their demonstrated loyalty is to the law, not a partisan cause. They are people who are forgoing high-dollar jobs in the private sector because they are committed to justice.
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Despite Trump’s efforts to denigrate this team of prosecutors, they aren’t "Angry Democrats" or, for that matter, angry anything. They are hardworking people, and you would expect a president to be proud of them.
Let me tell you why so many people like me, who served alongside some of these folks and worked in the Justice Department like they do, have faith in them.
Here's how we know we can trust Mueller
First, Mueller’s reputation is unimpeachable inside the Justice Department. His conduct was so far beyond question during his tenure as FBI director, transitioning the bureau to address foreign terrorism in the wake of 9/11, that his term was extended by a Democratic president despite his initial appointment by a Republican.
His selection as special counsel in 2017 did not come into question until his critics realized that his investigation was vigorously committed to finding the truth, not just to checking the box. To the extent he has been publicly reviled by some since then, it is because Mueller has prosecuted those he has developed convincing evidence against — as any prosecutor would, in any other case, without fear or favor.
It is nonsense for Republicans, the party that has historically billed itself as tough on crime — and a president who once exhorted law enforcement officials to avoid being “too nice” to people they were arresting — to criticize Mueller for doing his job. No one should be fooled by this. It defies common sense to criticize Mueller as untrustworthy when every defendant he has indicted before Stone, except for Russian defendants who have not submitted themselves to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts, has either pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial. Mueller has lived up to his reputation in the eyes of judges and jurors; the confidence of these close-up, sometimes critical observers should give people confidence in the investigation.
Second, we can judge for ourselves the credibility of the Mueller investigation by the way it has been conducted. No leaks. No political diatribes from the bully pulpit of the prosecutor. Neither the office nor its indictments have identified people who are not being charged or issues under investigation. This is done to protect people who may ultimately not be charged from damage to their reputation, and Mueller’s team has behaved scrupulously.
And when BuzzFeed recently ran a story that the special counsel’s office believed was not accurate, Mueller and his team issued a rare statement saying so.
Judge them by their demonstrated fairness. When criticized, they have not responded. They have kept their heads down and conducted themselves in a manner that confirms they can and should be trusted.
Mueller has faith in the system, we should too
Mueller has confined his public pronouncements to pleadings and to the courtroom, as he should. And so far, we’ve seen that he only pleads what he can prove.
We do not know how this investigation ends. Confidence in the inquiry, at this stage, is not an endorsement of its ultimate result, because we do not know what this will be. Mueller may conclude that the president was completely unaware of Russian efforts to influence the election. He may conclude that while there is some evidence senior campaign officials conspired with Russia, the admissible evidence is insufficient to establish guilt at trial. It could be that Roger Stone will be the last defendant indicted by the special counsel. Or there could be more to come.
Whatever the result, Mueller has conducted this investigation in a manner that deserves the confidence of more than 50 percent of the people, whether they are political supporters of the president or not. Mueller is neither villain nor avenger. He is a prosecutor — one who has shown that he knows how to stay in his lane but at the same time will not yield it.
Early in the investigation, Mueller learned there was an effort underway to smear him and pay women money to falsely accuse him of sexual harassment. His reaction was classic Mueller — the special counsel reported the crime to the FBI and went back to work. No hysterics. No finger-pointing. Mueller trusted the system, when he himself was at risk. We can trust him.
Joyce White Vance is a former U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Alabama and a law professor at the University of Alabama School of Law. Follow her on Twitter: @JoyceWhiteVance
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Here's why you should have faith in Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation