Watching Donald Trump’s defenders trying to build a case for firing Robert Mueller makes me remember a kid who lived up on the ridge behind Ritta School (bear with me here). He was a world champion biscuit eater, music lover and my brother John’s best friend. John called him Bunny.
One fall, Bunny got tired of waiting around for the school bus, which took a roundabout, slow-pokey route every morning, so he scrambled down the ridge and crossed Murphy Creek on a plank laid bank-to-bank just downstream from the schoolyard. It worked out well enough that he probably figured he’d be walking to school on a regular basis.
But before long he ran into a problem named LeRoy.
LeRoy lived down at the bottom of the hill. His disdain for academics had mired him a couple of grades behind where he should have been, which gave him a size advantage over his younger classmates, whom he bullied mercilessly. It’s probably no coincidence that years later when John started inventing characters for his phone pranks, he called his most obnoxious bully LeRoy Mercer.
One morning when Bunny came down off the hill, LeRoy, who had the soul of a highwayman, was waiting for him by the creek crossing. Bunny was faced with the choice of surrendering his lunch money or getting beat up and thrown in the drink.
Bunny wasn’t a much of a fighter, so he stepped into the creek and handed over the cash. We felt bad for him and wished there’d been somebody around who wasn’t scared of LeRoy. Bunny needed an equalizer.
Lacking a champion, Bunny went back to riding the bus.
Robert Mueller’s been an equalizer for the last 50 years. When he was head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Criminal Division, he prosecuted serious bad guys – Manuel Noriega, John Gotti, and the Lockerbie bomber.
When he was young, he attended a fancy prep school, got an undergraduate degree from Princeton, a master’s in international affairs from New York University, and unlike other sons of privilege who availed themselves of loopholes designed to allow them to dodge the draft – or get safe, cushy spots in the reserves – he joined the Marines, went to jump school and became a platoon commander in Vietnam where he worked his way up to aide-de-camp to the Third Marine Division’s commanding general, got shot in combat, returned to his platoon less than two months later and was awarded a chest full of medals including, but not confined to, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and a Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross.
After the war, he got a law degree with honors at the University of Virginia and went to work for a law firm in San Francisco. But it wasn’t long before he decided to chase down bad guys, and he hired on at the U.S. Attorney’s office and worked his way up to head the criminal division for Northern California. Then he took a job in Boston as an assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting terrorists and fraudsters, drug dealers and money launderers.
After George W. Bush nominated him to head the FBI (Mueller’s a lifelong Republican and was confirmed 98-0 by the Senate), he served for 12 years, setting a record for longevity that is second only to J. Edgar Hoover. During that time, he ticked off the Bush administration by refusing to do warrantless wiretapping on private citizens or to allow the FBI to participate in torturing suspects. He led the corruption investigation/prosecution of Enron.
After he left the FBI in 2013, he became a distinguished lecturer on cyber security at Stanford, then joined a law firm in Washington where he presided over investigations of shady government contractors, the NFL and Volkswagen (that one has cost VW more than $11 billion in customer settlements over emissions violations).
So that’s Robert Mueller in a nutshell: smart, fearless, experienced and unlikely to be intimidated by bullies, whether they’re called LeRoy or POTUS. Mueller’s an equalizer, a lifelong public servant who is going to do his job despite a swift boating posse of politicians led by a guy with five deferments who famously claimed he always wanted a Purple Heart.
For a little background on John Bean’s LeRoy Mercer tapes, view this video: