Mueller’s threats to resign reveal his character


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Former FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2011. AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File

By Douglas M. Charles, Penn State Greater Allegheny Associate Professor of History


On May 17, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to investigate ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The Conversation

The man he chose was James Comey’s predecessor as FBI director, Robert Mueller – a man who once said he hoped Comey would succeed him.

Douglas Charles

Mueller served longer as FBI director (2001-2013) than any other except J. Edgar Hoover (1924-1972). Since the appointment, Mueller has been described as tough, a former athlete and a decorated Marine officer from the Vietnam War. He’s held positions as U.S. attorney, assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division and, of course, FBI director. Some commentators have said Mueller is Trump’s worst nightmare come true.

From my perspective as an FBI historian, Mueller’s character was revealed when he threatened to resign twice during his time as FBI director. Comparing his resignation threats with those of J. Edgar Hoover brings them into sharper focus.

The comparison suggests how Mueller will comport himself as a special counsel investigating the president of the United States.

Mueller’s principles

In 2004, while Attorney General John Ashcroft was in the hospital, President George W. Bush authorized the warrantless interception of domestic communications over the objections of the Justice Department. Standing on principle, Mueller, along with Deputy Attorney General James Comey, threatened to resign if the program’s legal issues were not addressed.

Bush altered the program and Mueller continued on as FBI director. Mueller reportedly said about it: “There are days that go by, but not many, that you’re not balancing national security against civil liberties.”

Mueller threatened to resign again in 2006 after the FBI seized the records of Congressman William Jefferson, who was involved in a corruption scandal. Under intense congressional pressure, President Bush ordered the FBI to return the papers. Mueller resisted with a threat of resignation, again on principle – the FBI had seized the records with a valid judge-issued warrant. Bush relented, and Mueller stayed on as FBI director.

Hoover’s lip service

Compare these moves with Hoover’s threats to resign as FBI director. In 1940, Hoover’s FBI arrested members of a leftist group that had recruited volunteers to fight for the left-wing Spanish government in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The arrests sparked outrage from the liberal press and liberal Republican Sen. George Norris, a longtime Hoover critic.

The liberal press suggested Hoover’s FBI was akin to the Russian secret police or the Nazi Gestapo. Sen. Norris suggested Hoover was interested only in publicity and spying on Americans. Other critics in Congress even questioned Hoover’s competence.

Hoover moved quickly. He sent a message to his boss, Attorney General Robert Jackson, saying he was willing to resign if Jackson was unhappy with his leadership, pressuring Jackson to back him.

Hoover well knew his resignation would never be accepted. He had already succeeded in generating a significant amount of good press and public support in his 1930s war on celebrated gangsters. Since Hoover had cultivated and maintained a solid based of support, Jackson had little recourse but to publicly support Hoover against the “smear campaign.”

An astute if selfish bureaucrat, Hoover saved his job.

Hoover offered his resignation again in early 1971 after an embarrassing episode in which Hoover leaked information to Congress about an anti-Vietnam War group threatening to sabotage Washington, D.C. utilities. Hoover’s claims went public and forced a rushed FBI arrest of the group’s members. Hoover was then accused of prejudging the perpetrators before any arrests were made and rushing the arrests purely for publicity purposes.

In a storm of bad press, Hoover told President Richard Nixon’s attorney general, Richard Kleindienst, he would resign if he was an embarrassment to the president. But at the time, Hoover was entrenched in his position and far too powerful ever to be removed by any means. Interestingly, the Nixon White House considered replacing Hoover but decided it was untenable. Kleindienst merely reiterated his support to Hoover.

Unlike Hoover, who used resignation threats to preserve his bureaucratic position and reputation, Mueller did it out of a sense of right and wrong. These comparisons tell us much about how Mueller might behave as special counsel. They also tell us Mueller will stick with principle over political pressure. He will likely resist any pressures the Trump administration might exert on him to undermine the investigation of Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election.

Douglas M. Charles is associate professor of history at Pennsylvania State University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump and the history of the ‘first 100 days’

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Will history give Trump a thumbs-up for his first 100 days? (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)

By Robert Speel, Pennsylvania State University


The federal government is currently being funded by a continuing resolution that expires on April 28, 2017 – which also happens to be the 99th day of Donald Trump’s presidency. The Conversation

Robert Speel

If Congress fails to approve a new spending deal before then, Trump’s 100th day as president will begin with a federal government shutdown.

The last government shutdown took place under President Obama and lasted for more than two weeks in 2013. Hundreds of thousands of federal government employees were furloughed. The Smithsonian museums and National Park Service sites were closed, including the Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall in Philadelphia and the Washington monuments and memorials.

With current fights in Congress over spending on the military, the border wall and sanctuary cities, it’s certainly possible that no new continuing resolution will be passed in time.

That would make Trump’s 100th day in office an unusual anniversary, but the truth is not all recent presidents have much to brag about when it comes to the impact of their first months in office.

Creating the concept

The idea of using a president’s first 100 days in office as a way to evaluate him began in 1933 with Franklin D. Roosevelt – although FDR actually had in mind measuring the New Deal achievements of the first 100 days of a special congressional session that year. In a July 24 Fireside Chat, FDR referred to “the crowding events of the 100 days which had been devoted to the starting of the wheels of the New Deal.” Journalists, historians and political scientists continued the practice of looking for accomplishments in the early months of a presidency.

Vice President John Nance Garner (left) affectionately pats the head of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (AP Photo)

During those 100 days, FDR got many major bills through Congress to battle the economic crisis of the Great Depression. These bills created the Public Works Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps to provide job opportunities, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to insure bank deposits and the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide rural electricity. This flurry of activity became the standard by which future presidents would be judged – often coming up short.

In a 2001 study, political scientists John Frendreis, Raymond Tatalovich and Jon Schaff determined that the presidents who followed FDR have not come close to his success levels in seeing proposed bills pass into law so early in their administrations. The authors attributed that to changes in Congress that have slowed down the lawmaking process.

Let’s consider how the presidents have done.

Truman to Clinton

Following FDR’s death, Harry Truman’s first 100 days were focused on the closing battles of World War II, with Germany’s surrender occurring less than one month after Truman took office.

Dwight Eisenhower’s first 100 days were similarly dominated by foreign policy, including the death of Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin and negotiations to end the Korean War.

John Kennedy entered office with an ambitious agenda, which included the creation of the Peace Corps, but his first 100 days are probably best remembered for the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

Lyndon Johnson’s first 100 days were most consumed by coping with the aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination, but LBJ also used the period and Kennedy’s legacy to begin the groundwork to pass major civil rights and war on poverty legislation.

While Richard Nixon also promoted an ambitious domestic agenda in the White House, his first 100 days contained no major visible achievements at the time. Nixon told reporters: “I don’t count either the days or the hours, really. I never thought in those terms. I plan for a long term.” Later, it was revealed that he had ordered a secret bombing of Cambodia during the period.

Gerald Ford’s first 100 days are best remembered for his swearing-in ceremony following Nixon’s resignation, when he announced that “our long national nightmare is over.” He then pardoned Nixon one month later for any crimes the former president had committed in office.

Jimmy Carter also had an inauspicious start. Possibly due to his inexperience in Washington, he asked Congress to pursue several different domestic policy goals, many of which never passed into law. Perhaps best remembered from Carter’s early months is his speech from the White House to declare that energy policy and efforts to end American dependence on oil were the “moral equivalent of war.”

Ronald Reagan’s administration drew the lesson from his immediate predecessor that it was best to focus on one or two domestic issues during the first 100 days. Reagan spent his first months as president promoting an agenda of tax and spending cuts, though those did not pass into law until August 1981, four months later. Reagan’s first 100 days as president were also notable for the assassination attempt made against him, which limited his political efforts for part of the time period.

George H.W. Bush’s first 100 days as president were largely a continuation of the policies of the Reagan presidency. They were noted at the time for being relatively uneventful, with a congressional battle over a secretary of defense nominee and the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska dominating the political news.

The biggest political news story during Bill Clinton’s first 100 days was probably the failure of his stimulus package of domestic spending increases to get past a Republican filibuster in the Senate, though the eventual budget that resulted helped steer the United States toward budget surpluses later in the decade. Clinton’s first month also included his signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act into law, the start of a debate about service of gays in the military and the creation of a task force on national health care reform, chaired by Hillary Clinton.

The 21st century

George W. Bush took office in January 2001 after a disputed electoral outcome in Florida led to a 5-4 Supreme Court decision that essentially made him president. In a politically divided country, Bush’s strategy seemed to be to avoid controversy and build his political capital, with his major legislative proposals in the time period involving tax cuts and education reform.

Due to the economic crisis that began during Bush’s final months as president, Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office were dominated by the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a package of economic stimulus investments that by some measures was even larger than those passed in FDR’s 100 days in 1933. During a CBS “60 Minutes” interview in November 2008, Obama even said he was reading about FDR’s 100 days as an example.

Which brings us back to Donald Trump.

Trump’s main political success so far has been the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. His promised repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act failed to get support in Congress. His attempted travel entry bans of citizens of certain Islamic countries into the U.S. and attempted suspension of refugee entry have so far led to massive protests and have been blocked by federal judges.

The Trump administration has also taken military action in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan, approved the construction of oil pipelines through North Dakota and sent out a request for contract bids to build a border wall with Mexico. It’s not clear yet which of these events will be well-remembered a year – or 10 – from now.

One thing is sure. If the Liberty Bell or the Lincoln Memorial is closed to tourists on Trump’s 100th day as president, it’s likely that government malfunction will be what is remembered about Trump’s first few months in office.

Robert Speel, Associate Professor of Political Science, Erie campus, Pennsylvania State University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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