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Opinion The Fox News-Murdoch effect: Mueller must resign! Or be fired!

Post media critic Erik Wemple says stoking old scandals is an attempt to sow doubt in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into President Trump. (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

The headline on the story sounds foreboding. “Mueller facing new Republican pressure to resign in Russia probe,” reads the headline of the piece by Brooke Singman. Its gist is that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who’s investigating possible collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia, is now dealing with a “fresh round of calls from conservative critics for his resignation from the Russia collusion probe, amid revelations that have called into question the FBI’s own actions and potentially Mueller’s independence.”

Just what are the grounds for resignation? The quasi-logic spreads out over a few points:

  • Mueller is a buddy of James B. Comey, whom Trump fired as FBI director. “The federal code could not be clearer — Mueller is compromised by his apparent conflict of interest in being close with James Comey,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), told Fox News in a statement on Friday. “The appearance of a conflict is enough to put Mueller in violation of the code. . . .  All of the revelations in recent weeks make the case stronger.”
  • Mueller was serving as the director of the FBI back in 2010, when the U.S. government was reviewing a controversial deal in which a Russian company acquired a Canadian mining company with uranium holdings in the United States — a transaction that would become known as the Uranium One deal. In a masterful piece of distraction, The Hill on Oct. 17 published a “scoop” that Mueller’s FBI was investigating criminal conduct involving a subsidiary of the company involved in the Uranium One deal.
  • The Washington Post reported last week that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee retained research firm Fusion GPS to develop the infamous dossier on Trump’s ties to Russia — a document put together by a former MI6 officer. As it turned out, the FBI considered paying the agent to continue his work but backed out after the whole thing blew up in the media. Therefore, the FBI needs to be investigated, and Mueller, a former director, can’t possibly do that.

Please excuse the Erik Wemple Blog if you don’t fully understand how those circumstances could disqualify Mueller from pursuing his investigation. Truth be told, we don’t either.

What we do understand is that the best explanations are available at media properties under the control of Rupert Murdoch, the 21st Century Fox mogul. Admire the way that his folks breathe conspiratorial life into a story: In her Fox News piece, for example, Singman quotes New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) as saying this about recent events: “If the facts that you just laid out are true, then somebody with Bob Mueller’s integrity will step aside and should — if in fact those facts, as you laid them out, are true.”

Trump's former campaign head Paul Manafort, Manafort's former business partner Rick Gates and Trump's campaign adviser George Papadopoulos have been charged. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Where did he say that? On “Fox & Friends,” the record-breaking creator of idiocies on morning television.

What other source material did Singman find out there in the newsphere? Oh, a piece from the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, that storied newspaper that Murdoch pulled out all the stops to acquire a decade ago. Here’s what it said about Mueller in an Oct. 25 editorial:

All of this also raises questions about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The Fusion news means the FBI’s role in Russia’s election interference must now be investigated—even as the FBI and Justice insist that Mr. Mueller’s probe prevents them from cooperating with Congressional investigators.
Mr. Mueller is a former FBI director, and for years he worked closely with Mr. Comey. It is no slur against Mr. Mueller’s integrity to say that he lacks the critical distance to conduct a credible probe of the bureau he ran for a dozen years. He could best serve the country by resigning to prevent further political turmoil over that conflict of interest.
The American public deserves a full accounting of the scope and nature of Russian meddling in American democracy, and that means following the trail of the Steele dossier as much as it does the meetings of Trump campaign officials.

Preposterous, every word of it. This is called conflict-of-interest sniping, and we see it all over the place, including in the media. Remember how Harvey Weinstein & Co. attempted to push Ronan Farrow off the story of the mogul’s sexual harassment by arguing that he was conflicted through his relationship with his movie-making father, Woody Allen? Or the time that the Daily Caller attempted to conflict ABC News’s Martha Raddatz out of hosting a Joe Biden-Paul Ryan vice-presidential debate in 2012 because of some weak ties to President Barack Obama?

Mueller is investigating actors in the Trump campaign — a pursuit for which he appears as ethically fit as anyone in the country.

There’s yet another Murdoch-sponsored attack on Mueller, however. Writing in the New York Post on Saturday, columnist Michael Goodwin argued, “special counsel Robert Mueller will never be able to untangle the tangled webs with any credibility and needs to step aside.” Again, the argument here is that recent events — Uranium One and the dossier situation — require that the Mueller investigation be broadened. Once broadened, that investigation couldn’t possibly be headed by Robert Mueller. According to Goodwin, “events showed that any honest probe must examine the Obama White House and Justice Department. Mueller served as head of the FBI for more than four years under President Barack Obama and cannot be expected to investigate his former colleagues and bosses.”

Funny how folks in the Murdoch empire — a place where the merits of tax cuts and limited government are commonly saluted — want to see Mueller’s investigation creep into new corners of the federal bureaucracy.

Jeanine Pirro, the host of “Justice with Judge Jeanine” on Fox News, did away with the moderate approach of asking for Mueller’s resignation. Better to just destroy American democracy and be rid of Mueller all at the same time: “Special Counsel and former FBI Director Robert Mueller must be fired immediately. His role as head of the FBI during the uranium deal and the Russian extortion case, his friendship with Jim Comey, demand his firing.”

Read more about this topic:

The Hill’s flimsy Russia-uranium story lands with maximum effect

Trump says the media won’t cover ‘real’ Russia story. It already did. Years ago.

Trump’s meltdown in anticipation of indictments is telling

Manafort just got indicted. Here’s what Mueller likely wants to ask him now.