FACT CHECK: Are There ‘Democrat Donors’ On The Mueller Team?

Kush Desai | Fact Check Reporter

Wisconsin Rep. Sean Duffy claimed Friday that “Democrat donors” are on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

Verdict: True

Public records indicate that a majority of lawyers on the Mueller team have donated about $65,000 in total to national Democratic candidates or organizations. Only one Mueller attorney, who is also a major Democratic donor, has contributed to Republicans.

Fact Check:

The Mueller probe has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election since May 2017, including whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. President Donald Trump has repeatedly denied allegations of collusion and has even referred to the Russia investigation as a “taxpayer funded charade.”

Republicans like Duffy have voiced more measured concerns about the Mueller team’s ability to be impartial.

“Do I believe there’s any evidence of Russia collusion between Donald Trump campaign and Russia? No. But should he be concerned? Yes. When you bring in Democrat donors, Hillary Clinton donors, into the Bob Mueller investigation, yeah, you should be concerned,” Duffy said on Fox Business. “So, I hope that Mueller does this the right way, but we should all be concerned based on the people who are inside helping Mueller run the investigation.”

Duffy has made similar statements over the past year about the potential bias of “Democrat donors” on the probe.

The Daily Caller News Foundation reached out to the special counsel’s office, which confirmed that nine out of the 16 publicly-disclosed attorneys on Mueller’s team have donated about $65,000 in total to Democratic candidates or groups at the national level.

Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings reveal that five of those nine attorneys donated to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign as well.

TheDCNF identified just one attorney, former Watergate assistant prosecutor James Quarles, who has donated to Republicans. FEC records show that Quarles donated a total of $2,750 to two Republicans, a fraction of the over $30,000 that he also donated to various Democratic candidates and groups over the past three decades.

Many of the Mueller probe’s lawyers have made relatively small contributions of hundreds of dollars, although some have donated substantial sums to Democrats like Clinton. The pattern of Democratic donations are one of many factors underlying skepticism by some regarding the investigation’s impartiality.

Attorney Jeannie Rhee, for instance, donated the legal annual maximum of $2,700 to Clinton in 2015 and 2016. She previously helped represent the Clinton Foundation against a 2015 racketeering lawsuit connected with Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State.

Andrew Weissmann, a Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutor, did not donate to Clinton’s campaign but has donated thousands to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and former President Barack Obama. Commentators have questioned Weissmann’s ability to be impartial due to his attendance of Clinton’s election night party and a January 2017 email from Weissmann thanking then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to enforce Trump’s travel ban.

Investigators most notably uncovered clear anti-Trump, pro-Clinton bias in text message conversations between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and FBI investigator Peter Strzok. (Neither Page nor Strzok are still on the Mueller team.)

The special counsel’s office, however, emphasized to TheDCNF that Mueller is a longtime registered Republican and that he cannot legally hire staff based on party affiliation or political contributions.

DOJ policy and the Civil Service Reform Act “both prohibit using political affiliation and may also prohibit using certain ideological affiliations in hiring and taking other personnel actions with regard to career attorneys,” according to a report by the Office of the Inspector General.

Rhee, moreover, represented the Clinton Foundation as a partner at the same elite law firm, WilmerHale, where Quarles and Mueller were also partners. Rhee and Quarles were among the first lawyers brought onto the probe by Mueller, and WilmerHale has even represented people in Trump’s direct orbit like Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

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Kush Desai

Fact Check Reporter