Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has been in the news a lot these days. And the veteran, highly respected, Republican-appointed law enforcement official is likely to continue to dominate the news cycle, as he doggedly proceeds to ferret out any links between an American presidential campaign and Russian government attempts to disrupt the American electoral process. Unfortunately, President Trump’s aides, some members of Congress, and Trump’s allies on the alt-right seem to be doing all they can to undermine the prosecution by attacking the prosecutor, making spurious claims about Mueller’s past actions as leader of the FBI—claims succinctly summed up in the headline of a front page New York Times editorial today as “That crazy talk about Robert Mueller.”
Which means that now is probably a good time to re-visit an August 24 Bulletin article titled “No, Robert Mueller is not radioactive.“ The story delves into Mueller’s role in the international fight against nuclear smugglers trying to sell stolen nuclear material to terrorists—a battle we are fighting partly with the help of Russian nuclear forensics scientists. (This is partly out of self-interest; after all, the Russians don’t want to see terrorists detonate a nuclear bomb in Moscow.) In a nutshell, Mueller had to personally transport a small, 10-gram sample—about the weight of 10 paper clips—of stolen, highly enriched uranium presumed to come from the old Soviet Georgia to a lab in Russia for further study and the nuclear forensics’ version of DNA fingerprint analysis. To give a sense of the scale of the quantities involved, even a small nuclear bomb—about the size of the most rudimentary one that a terrorist group could hope to fabricate—needs to have a chunk of highly enriched uranium roughly about the size and weight of a regulation bowling ball.
But all that has not dissuaded the conspiracy theorists, as the opening lines of this summer’s Bulletin story on the topic noted: “…Since any theory, no matter how bizarre, appears to be fair game, it is perhaps not surprising that a 10-year-old FBI counter-nuclear smuggling operation involving Mueller’s former work as FBI Director has been cast as collusion with the Russians, or accuses him of being a bagman in a Clinton-inspired plot to sell America’s uranium assets to Russia, undermining national security.”
The story’s author, George M. Moore of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, ends by noting: “Despite increasingly Cold War-esque rhetoric surrounding Russia, maintaining Russia/US cooperation in nuclear forensics, nonproliferation, and other aspects of counterterrorism is essential for international safety and security…. Is Special Prosecutor Mueller biased in his investigation? Is he now “radioactive” due to his involvement with Clinton and a secret Russian transfer of uranium? In this era of alternative facts and fake news, conspiracy theorists will continue to claim he is biased, but it is obvious that his actions in 2009 were appropriate, praiseworthy, and are totally unrelated to his role as special prosecutor.”