FACT CHECK: CNN Claims There Aren’t 13 Democrats On The Mueller Probe

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

Chris Cillizza, editor-at-large for CNN, fact-checked a series of “untruths” and “exaggerations” tweeted by President Donald Trump Sunday.

In one of those tweets, Trump claimed that there are “13 Angry and Heavily Conflicted Democrats” on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of lawyers.

Cillizza disputed the tweet. “Trump’s claim that there are 13 Democrats on Mueller’s team is also false,” he asserted.

Verdict: False

Cillizza cites incomplete and outdated findings. The Daily Caller News Foundation first reported that there were 13 registered Democrats and zero Republicans known to work for Mueller in February. The probe brought on a 14th Democrat in May.

Fact Check:

Since the early days of the Russia probe, conservatives have questioned whether members of the investigation were politically conflicted.

The Wall Street Journal reported in December that one of the lawyers, Andrew Weissmann, attended the election night party for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Revelations that FBI agent Peter Strzok, a former member of the team, exchanged anti-Trump text messages with another FBI employee fueled further speculation.

Republicans like Wisconsin Rep. Sean Duffy began to say that many of Mueller’s hires were Democratic donors, leading fact checking websites to evaluate the claim.

Politifact found that while Mueller himself is a registered Republican, nine of the publicly-known lawyers had donated to Democratic candidates, according to filings with the Federal Elections Commission.

In February, TheDCNF found two additional Democratic donors by searching through campaign finance records at the state level. (All told, we found nearly $74,000 in contributions to Democratic candidates and $2,750 to Republican candidates.)

As part of this analysis, TheDCNF also identified the voter registration status of all 16 publicly-known lawyers, the first time the full composition of the team had been reported. Thirteen were registered Democrats, three were registered as independents and zero were registered Republicans. (RELATED: Not A Single Lawyer Known To Work For Mueller Is A Republican)

Trump began tweeting about “13 hardened Democrats” weeks later, prompting The Washington Post, The New York Times and others to fact check the claim.

Cillizza relies on these outlets to dispute Trump, but he cherry picks sentences from their articles that imply there are fewer than 13 Democrats on the Russia probe.

He cites WaPo, for example, writing, “According to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, five of the 16 known members of Mueller’s team donated to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.”

But this finding only deals with a small subset of the lawyers – those who donated specifically to Clinton.

More importantly, Cillizza overlooks a key sentence in the WaPo article that supports Trump’s claim: “The Daily Caller said voter registration records indicate that 13 of the attorneys are Democrats and three have no party affiliation.”

A subsequent fact check by WaPo substantiates the “13 Democrats” claim as well.

Cillizza makes the same oversight with a fact check from the Times. “The New York Times says that nine of the 17 known lawyers on Mueller’s team have donated to Democratic campaigns in the past,” he writes.

But the NYT goes on to say that an additional four lawyers are either registered Democrats or have identified as one online, for a total of 13 Democrats.

Trump has at times exaggerated the political leanings of the team; he once claimed that “the people that have been hired are all Hillary Clinton supporters.” And defenders of the special counsel investigation point out that Mueller may not legally consider political affiliation when making hiring decisions.

But the basic claim that Mueller brought on 13 registered Democrats is not only true – Trump actually understates the number.

Since TheDCNF first reported the registration status of the lawyers, another attorney has been added: Uzo Asonye, a registered Democrat who donated to Hillary Clinton’s presidential election campaign.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor

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