A Glance Back at the Political Imbalance of Mueller's Team
Despite Robert Mueller's Russian probe vindicating President Trump on the Russian collusion charge, many people continue to wonder about the perception of political bias in the investigation team's very makeup. In fact, Bernard Goldberg received a question about it in this week's Premium Q&A session (for this Friday), which prompted this column.
As was pointed out a number of times over the past couple of years (including by the president himself), most of the lawyers on Mueller's crew were indeed registered Democrats. 13 of the 16 in fact, with some reports suggesting that a couple others (despite having no party affiliation) lean left as well. The only confirmed Republican of the bunch was Mueller himself.
On its face, it's perfectly understandable why people were at least concerned about partisan bias potentially affecting the outcome of the investigation. After all, we live in very politically polarizing times. Just about everyone has a strong view of President Trump. And while political affiliation doesn't inherently preclude professionals from performing their jobs professionally, it certainly invites such a perception.
Trump and many media-conservatives had no qualms at all with portraying that perception as a reality. Despite knowing virtually nothing about what was going on in the investigation, they declared it to be a politically corrupt "Deep State" operation. And their audiences ate it up.
Conversely, people in the liberal media largely (and unsurprisingly) shrugged off the bias concern as a nothingburger. With the numbers on the investigation team stacked politically in their favor, why would they object or even bother to dig for an explanation? No harm, no foul. Their audiences likely felt the same way.
Of course, both sides would have had opposite takes if Obama were president and at least 13 members of the team looking into his actions were Republicans. After all, partisanship is a hell of a drug.
Neither side felt inclined to explain to its viewers and readers what possible, legitimate reason Mueller might have had for selecting a politically lopsided team. I certainly didn't see any such analysis on television or in major publications, and Googling the topic doesn't provide much help either. Maybe someone — somewhere — touched on it, but the answer isn't readily available.
Still, there is indeed a reasonable explanation — one that I've been sharing in this site's comment section and on social media for quite some time. With the question still coming up, I figured I'd write a column to address it to a larger audience.
Last May, I attended a Weekly Standard event Colorado Springs, Colorado. One of the featured speakers was then Republican U.S. Congressman Trey Gowdy. Gowdy, as many people know, has an extensive legal background. He was a federal prosecutor and was at the forefront of multiple congressional investigations. He's also well respected among Republicans and colleagues.
Anyway, during a question and answer session with members of the audience, Gowdy was asked about this very topic. The attendee who put forth the question seemed certain that the disproportionate number of Democrats on Mueller's team was indicative of a political hit-job. Gowdy, to the surprise of many, disagreed.
Gowdy explained that Mueller didn't have the authority to draft or force people onto his Special Counsel team. Individuals had to be willing to do it, and put forth interest in the job (essentially applying for it). In other words, Mueller chose from a pool of applicants, not a dream team. And the reality, as Gowdy stated, is that politically-affiliated lawyers do not want to serve on a team that's investigating a president from their own party. That's because doing so would be potentially harmful to their own careers. Thus, they tend not to apply.
So, when someone like Mueller is choosing the people he believes are the most qualified, from a politically disproportionate group of applicants, he's going to end up with a politically disproportionate team. That's just the way it goes.
To me and those in attendance that night, the explanation made perfect sense. And whenever I relay Gowdy's explanation to others, it seems to make sense to them too. But what about those who didn't have the benefit of sitting in a small auditorium in Colorado Springs that night? Well, they were largely left to draw their own conclusions.
That's not just a shame, but also a journalistic injustice. Why weren't people in the media presenting this information? I think I know the answer.
The conservative media didn't want to explore this issue because it was far more convenient, and accommodating to the audience, to vilify the investigators for having the gall to probe the man they're loyal to. The liberal media either didn't care enough about the issue, or perhaps felt that the premise of Democratic partisans holding Trump's fate in their hands was too delicious of a fantasy to ruin for their audience.
Whatever the reasons, the public was not served well by leaving the solving of such a potentially consequential riddle up to widespread armchair speculation — especially when the answer was so easily attainable from anyone who understood the process.
This is what happens when political narratives are deemed more valuable than simply clearing the air.