More Clinton connections have emerged for members of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team, amid growing Republican complaints about potential bias inside the office created to lead an independent probe.
On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Mueller investigator Andrew Weissmann attended Hillary Clinton’s election-night party at the Javits Center in New York City. Fox News reported earlier this week that Weissmann in January also praised departing acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she was fired for refusing to defend President Trump’s travel ban.
Meanwhile, at least two Mueller investigators' past legal work for Clinton-tied figures is getting a second look as Republicans hunt for signs of bias.
Aaron Zebley, a former partner at WilmerHale and a former chief of staff to Mueller when he served as FBI director, represented Justin Cooper, a key figure in the Clinton email controversy.
Cooper is the longtime Bill Clinton aide responsible for helping set up the now-infamous private email server. Cooper later admitted to “two instances where he destroyed [Hillary] Clinton’s old mobile devices by breaking them in half or hitting them with a hammer.”
Jeannie Rhee, another former partner at WilmerHale, represented ex-Obama National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, the Clinton Foundation in a 2015 racketeering case, and Hillary Clinton herself in a lawsuit seeking access to her private emails.
“You’ve got Donald Trump being persecuted by Hillary Clinton’s fan club — that’s inequitable,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a member of the House Judiciary Committee, told Fox News on Friday. “Many of the members of Mueller’s team donated to the Clinton campaign. We have a lot of highly qualified federal prosecutors in the Justice Department, and we could have found a bunch of them who didn’t donate to either candidate. But that didn’t occur, and that’s troubling.”
"You might start seeing a real death spiral in terms of any public support for the investigation."
Those political donations have been well known since the start of the Mueller probe. At least seven of Mueller's investigators on the Russia meddling case have donated to Democratic candidates and the Democratic National Committee.
Weissmann donated a combined $2,300 to the Obama campaign in 2008, and at least $2,000 to the DNC in 2006. Rhee donated a total of $5,400 to Hillary Clinton in 2015 and 2016 and a combined $4,800 to former President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2011.
Zebley has no history of political donations or any affiliation with a political party.
Neither political donations nor past legal work alone proves that an investigator is biased or unable to work a case objectively. But the revelation last weekend that another investigator, Peter Strzok, was removed from the Russia probe over anti-Trump texts has critics looking closely at every bio.
“Mueller did not have to select attorneys who had made donations to, or even represented, Democratic candidates, but as those partisan connections are becoming clearer, it gives an appearance of bias that could have been avoided,” former high-ranking Justice Department official James Trusty, who served under the Bush and Obama administrations, told Fox News on Friday.
“Add a lead investigator having a 10,000-text affair with an already-dubious selection for the team (in terms of litigation experience), and you might start seeing a real death spiral in terms of any public support for the investigation,” Trusty added in an email to Fox News.
That was a reference to Strzok's anti-Trump text messages with another former Mueller investigator, Lisa Page, with whom he was romantically involved.
Strzok, who was an FBI counterintelligence agent, was reassigned to the agency's human resources division after the discovery of the texts. Page was briefly on Mueller’s team but returned to the FBI over the summer. The two exchanged more than 10,000 text messages, Fox News reported.
Strzok was involved in a host of significant developments in both the Clinton and Russia probes. He was present during the FBI’s July 2016 interview with Hillary Clinton at the close of the email investigation, shortly before then-FBI Director James Comey called her actions “extremely careless” but did not recommend any criminal charges.
Strzok also oversaw the FBI’s interviews with Trump’s fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty last week to lying to FBI investigators in the Russia probe.
Trump allies have routinely sought to raise bias concerns about Mueller's team to discredit the Russia investigation.
The special counsel’s office told Fox News this week that it had no comment on such allegations, but pointed to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s comments earlier this year.
“If there were conflicts that arose, because of Director Mueller or anybody employed by Director Mueller, we have a process within the [Justice Department] to take care of that,” Rosenstein said on Fox News.
The special counsel himself has been appointed to five Senate-confirmed positions by four different presidents – two Republicans, and two Democrats. Mueller is said to be a lifelong Republican, serving as FBI director for President George W. Bush.
Justice Department policies and federal law prohibit discriminating based on political affiliation when it comes to hiring for nonpolitical positions, like the FBI and the Justice Department.
A spokesman for the special counsel told Fox News on Friday that Weissmann was still a member of Mueller's team.