Robert Mueller & James Comey Know Each Other

by Jessicah Lahitou
Mark Wilson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

After President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, one immediate question arose: What would happen to the investigation into Trump's alleged ties to Russia? Comey had been leading that probe, and with him gone, the possibility of it being abandoned or curtailed kept plenty of Americans up at night (or compulsively checking the news). While there's still no word of a Comey replacement, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to look into what ties exist (if any) between Russia and Trump's inner circle. Interestingly, Mueller and Comey have quite a storied past. Their history suggests that both men believe no administration or official is above the law.

Let's retrace this back to 2004. The United States was in the midst of fighting President Bush's "War on Terror," and as part of their response to 9/11, the Bush administration had authorized sweeping surveillance protocols. These directives gave the National Security Agency (NSA) unprecedented power to spy on American citizens.

At the time, Mueller was the FBI director, and Comey held the position of deputy attorney general. Comey's immediate superior, Attorney General John Ashcroft, had been hospitalized when Comey was asked to reauthorize the NSA surveillance program. He refused, arguing the program lay outside what the law allowed.

Displeased by Comey's answer were Bush's Chief of Staff Andrew Card and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales. Card and Gonzales expected their NSA program to get another green light. When Comey turned them down, they decided to go over his head — by bombarding Ashcroft at the hospital.

Someone tipped Comey off to their plan, and he rushed to the hospital himself. But first, Comey made a phone call — to FBI Director Robert Mueller. Mueller agreed with Comey's assessment of the situation, and sent FBI agents to the hospital, informing them that under no circumstances were they to allow Comey to be "removed." Mueller then also headed for the hospital.

Card and Gonzales arrived before Comey, but the deputy attorney general got there in time to hear Ashcroft deny their request for reauthorization. Ashcroft deferred to Comey, saying the decision was ultimately his.

It is unlikely anyone would know the story of this bedside showdown, if not for the Senate hearings in 2007 that questioned the actions of the recently appointed attorney general, Alberto Gonzales. Comey's testimony laid bare the illegal aspirations of Bush's top White House legal counsel. And apparently, Comey told no one what he intended to reveal during that Senate hearing.

Comey, Mueller, and Ashcroft collectively threatened to tender their resignations over Gonzales. As a result, Gonzales himself stepped down as attorney general.

In that famous 2007 Senate hearing, Comey described Mueller as "one of the finest people [he had] ever met." There's no question the support of Mueller helped ensure not only the integrity of the FBI and Justice Department, but also kept in check an NSA that had often seemed to operate outside any legal oversight at all.

What Comey and Mueller both demonstrated was an action-based approach to upholding the law and the integrity of their offices. As demonstrated by his reproach to the Republican Bush administration, as well as his willingness to upset the Democratic campaign of Hillary Clinton, Comey appears to be a man who does what he thinks is right, regardless of politics. And Mueller's past indicates, he not only respects Comey for that, but walks the same road himself.

If Trump and his administration have no illegitimate, prohibited, or illegal ties to Russia, then an investigation by Mueller will certainly clear them of any suspicions. But if there is any truth to the many rumors, then Mueller's history with Comey does not bode well for the Trump White House.