Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert said Thursday that former FBI Director Robert Mueller should recuse himself from the special counsel appointed to investigate Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. election and allegations that President Donald Trump's campaign colluded with the Kremlin. Gohmert said that Mueller should step aside from the probe because of his "cozy" relationship" with fired FBI Director James Comey.
Gohmert spoke with TheBlaze Thursday night to react to fired FBI Director James Comey's highly anticipated testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. During the hourslong public hearing, Comey spoke about his ousting, and the unusual circumstances surrounding his exit from the bureau he led for more than three years.
TheBlaze specifically asked Gohmert about Comey saying that he gave the memo, in which he recalled conversations he had with Trump, to a law professor "friend," who then released the memo to the media. Comey said he didn't release the memo himself for "a variety of reasons."
Comey said one of the reasons he did not release the memos himself was because he was leaving on vacation. Comey said he was getting ready to go on vacation with his wife "to hide" and was afraid that had he handed over the documents to the media himself, it would have been "like feeding seagulls." Comey said the media were camped out at the end of his driveway at his suburban Washington, D.C., home.
Comey said during the testimony Thursday that he considered the memos to be unclassified and belonging to him, since they were his personal recollection. But some have suggested that Comey could face legal problems by releasing the memos, since he wrote them while he was still the FBI chief.
Gohmert said he doesn't know whether Comey releasing the memo could have any legal ramifications.
"I don't know the answer to that," Gohmert said. There is one thing that the Texas congressman is sure of, though.
Gohmert said, "it's time for [former FBI chief] Bob Mueller to recuse himself" from the special counsel investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign's alleged collusion with the Kremlin "since Comey has testified to how cozy their relationship was."
Gohmert did not elaborate as to why Mueller and Comey's professional relationship should disqualify Mueller from heading the special counsel. After all, it has not been suggested that Comey himself is a target of the investigation or anything other than a possible witness. Gohmert's office did not immediately respond to TheBlaze Monday when asked for further clarification.
During his testimony Thursday, Comey confirmed the existence of the FBI probe into Russia's meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. Comey previously said in March that the bureau was looking into the Kremlin's interference in the U.S. voting process, including the Trump campaign's alleged collusion with the country, Politico reported.
Comey also confirmed during his Senate testimony that the FBI never investigated Trump personally, with regard to any of the allegations.
Gohmert said that since "we know the president was never under investigation for ties to Russia, that pretty well eliminates the potential conflict for Jeff Sessions. He added: "Jeff [Sessions] is a lot less conflicted than Mueller apparently is now."
It's important to note, however, that Sessions was a Trump campaign surrogate and that FBI's ongoing investigation focuses partly on whether anyone who was affiliated with the Trump campaign had any inappropriate contacts with Russian officials. The fact that Trump is not being investigated personally does not necessarily rule out a conflict of interest for Sessions.
The Washington Examiner's Byron York quoted several Washington, D.C., lawyers in a column published Sunday — and the reviews were mixed.
"It's hard to imagine a scenario, for example, where information acquired as part of a friendship would impair the prosecutor's ability to do his or her job or, alternatively, improperly influence the witness' testimony," said one unnamed legal expert, who York identified as a "big-firm lawyer and Justice Department veteran."
"I expect, in any event, that any interview of Comey would be very much a group effort on the part of Mueller's team, so that his personal relationship with Comey would hardly be an issue," the same source said.
But another unidentified lawyer on Capitol Hill reportedly told York that the whole situation is "ironic."
"I mean, the whole purpose of the special counsel is to have a prosecutor from outside the government and outside of the normal chain of command because inherent conflicts render the Justice Department incapable of handling it," the source said. "So, now the special counsel is a close friend (mentor/mentee relationship) with the star witness, who by his own admission leaked the memos at least in part to engineer the appointment of a special counsel."
The "cozy relationship" between Comey and Mueller to which Gohmert referred is the fact that the pair worked together for at least 12 years.
Mueller served as FBI director at the Justice Department from 2001-2013 while Comey was deputy attorney general. Comey described Mueller Thursday as “one of the finest people I’ve ever met." Comey also said that Mueller was “one person in government in whom I could confide in and trust.”
One particular instance in which Comey and Mueller banded together came during George W. Bush's presidency. At the time, the Bush administration pushed for the renewal of a broad government surveillance program just six years after the 9/11 attacks.
Comey and Mueller both pushed back against the administration's efforts. Comey and Mueller even went to former Attorney General John Ashcroft's hospital bedside to try to convince Ashcroft to oppose the surveillance program. In 2007, Comey testified to Congress that he "called Director Mueller, with whom I'd been discussing this particular matter and had been a great help to me over that week, and told him what was happening."
"He [Mueller] said, 'I'll meet you at the hospital right now," Comey testified a decade ago, Fox News reported.
There is no evidence to suggest that Mueller and Comey, by pushing for the Bush administration not to renew the surveillance program, did anything outside of their authority as FBI director and deputy attorney general.
But it's not just Gohmert who doubts Mueller's ability to conduct a fair investigation.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tweeted Monday morning that "Republicans are delusional" if they think so. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller to lead the special counsel. Trump appointed Rosenstein to his current role.
"Look who he is hiring.check fec reports. Time to rethink," Gingrich tweeted.
An FEC search revealed that Michael Dreeben, who Mueller appointed as part of the special counsel, donated a total of $500 to former President Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, and another $1,000 to former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's 2006 senatorial campaign.
Jeannie Rhee, who Mueller also appointed to the special counsel, has given a combined total of $9,150 to the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, and Democratic Sens. Mark Udall (Col.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), and Chris Van Hollen (Md.) since 2004.
The former speaker also pointed to Comey saying during his testimony that he leaked the memo in the hope that it would result in a special counsel.
“My judgment was, I needed to get that out into the public square, and so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. [I] didn’t do it myself for a variety of reasons, but I asked him to, because I thought, that might prompt the appointment of the special counsel," Comey told the Senate intelligence committee Thursday, according to the New York Post.
On Sunday, Gingrich turned Comey's own words against him.
"Comey said, 'I deliberately leaked through an intermediary to create this counsel, who happens to be one of his closest friends. Then look at who Mueller's starting to hire,' Gingrich told Fox News host Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday."
"I mean, these are people who, frankly, look to me like they're setting up to go after Trump," Gingrich said.
Gingrich did not say who he meant by "these people." A representative for Gingrich did not immediately respond to TheBlaze Monday.
Gohmert and Gingrich's attacks on Mueller came within days of Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump's legal team, refusing to rule out that Trump could fire Mueller, "if there was a basis."
"Look, the president of the United States, as we all know, is a unitary executive," Sekulow told ABC News host George Stephanopoulos Sunday, according to Politico. "But the president is going to seek the advice of his counsel and inside the government as well as outside. And I'm not going to speculate on what he will, or will not, do.”
Sekulow's conclusion that it would be Trump's right as president to fire Mueller directly contradicts the 1988 Supreme Court case, Morrison v. Olson. In the case, the court found the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to be constitutional. The Ethics in Government Act is the law that gives the attorney general the power to appoint a special counsel to investigate government officials.
It's possible that the Supreme Court today could decide otherwise, since all but Justice Anthony Kennedy were appointed since Morrison v. Olson.
Sekulow said that he "can't imagine" a scenario in which Trump would fire Mueller.
"That, again, is an issue that the president with his advisers would discuss if there was a basis," Sekulow said.