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Cramer, joining partisan ire, calls Mueller investigation 'botched'

FILE -- Robert Mueller, the former FBI director and special counsel leading the Russia investigation, leaves after closed meetings with the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 21, 2017. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., vocally criticized Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into President Trump's campaign this week. In doing so, he joins a Republican chorus that itself has been criticized as a calculated attempt to parry Trump's greatest political threat.

Cramer's statements come after revelations of 2016 text messages between two FBI officials describing Trump's unfitness for office, with one writing "I'm scared for our organization." One eventually became a senior member of Mueller's investigation and was removed after the messages' discovery.

To Cramer, it's evidence the investigation is a "witch hunt" with partisan motives.

"I think at some point, you have to say, this process is so have to wipe the slate clean and start over," Cramer said. "... I don't know that I want to say fire (Mueller)—but (Attorney General Jeff Sessions) ought to step up and say something about this. He ought to say, 'I expect a better product coming from Bob Mueller and his reputation.' "

Cramer has been joined by other Republicans in voicing public doubts in the integrity of Mueller's investigation, which have intensified as Mueller's work has led to charges against four people with ties to the president.

"We have real, live terrorists in this country, which we need to be going after instead of a political agenda, which is what seems to be behind this investigation," Cramer said.

But Dana Harsell, an associate professor at UND's political science and public administration department, noted that discrediting an investigation into a political ally is something of an American tradition.

"You will always see one party or the other pushing back against an independent special counsel. I think that's part of this process—trying to frame the parameters of what's going on," Harsell said, recalling the same dynamic during Bill Clinton's presidency. "You're always trying to position yourself or your party or your party's president when the results come out."

When the office of Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., was asked for comment on Republican concerns on the Mueller investigation, his office responded with a statement in which he called the FBI officials' messages "raise concerns," though he did not recommend any action like Cramer.

"The DOJ has said that the Inspector General is fully investigating the messages, as is the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee as part of their oversight role, to find out exactly what happened so we can determine what further action is necessary," Hoeven said in the statement.

The increasing threat that Mueller has posed to Trump has led to speculation that the president may attempt to force him from his post, drawing strong concerns that doing so would be an obstruction of justice. Harsell's noted the move's likely unpopularity.

"I think this is especially sensitive for a president who already has a very low public approval rating," he said. "My feeling is that there would be a strong public backlash against any obvious attempt to interfere with this investigation, up to and including firing Robert Mueller."

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

(701) 780-1108