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Conservative Republicans demand special counsel Mueller recuse himself over uranium deal

Rep. Matt Gaetz said that he doesn't trust Mueller because of his "close personal relationship" with former FBI Director James Comey.

WASHINGTON – Three conservative House Republicans filed a resolution Friday calling on special counsel Robert Mueller to recuse himself from his probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, accusing him of conflicts of interest.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who wrote the resolution, accuses Mueller of having a conflict of interest because he was serving as FBI chief when the Obama administration approved a deal allowing a Russian company to purchase a Canada-based mining group with uranium operations in the United States, according to a draft obtained by The Washington Post.

President Donald Trump has often brought up the Uranium One deal in 2010 as a way to accuse Hillary Clinton of potential corruption and foreign collusion, despite scant evidence she was directly involved in the decision to allow it to proceed. Nine government agencies make up the government committee that reviews such deals, along with five other observer agencies; the FBI is not one of them.

The GOP also launched two congressional probes into the matter last month, questioning whether the FBI and Justice Department were looking into Russia's attempts to influence the U.S. uranium market.

Gaetz wants the deal to be investigated by a special counsel, and he doesn't think Mueller is the guy to do it.

"Someone who was involved in a deal cannot reasonably be trusted to scrutinize that probe," Gaetz said in an interview.

Gaetz added that he doesn't trust Mueller because of his "close personal relationship" with former FBI Director James Comey. Similar complaints have been raised by other Republicans, though there is considerable dispute over whether the Comey-Mueller relationship was primarily professional.

Republicans, including Gaetz, have also called on the Justice Department to better investigate Comey's conduct in the FBI investigation into Clinton's emails, a matter several congressional committees are also probing.

Reps. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., and Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, both members of the House's conservative Freedom Caucus, signed on to Gaetz's effort. A spokeswoman for Gaetz said they expect to pick up more support from the Freedom Caucus, the bulk of whose members signed onto an earlier Gaetz bill calling on the attorney general to appoint a special counsel to look into Comey's actions.

But Gaetz may struggle to build wider support.

He admitted Thursday that he does not expect any Democrats to support his Mueller resolution. And many Republicans who have questions about Clinton's role in the 2010 uranium deal still support Mueller's right to do his job free from political interference.

There have been no reports that Mueller is including the uranium deal in his investigation. Earlier this week, Mueller announced the first charges of his probe against three members of Trump's campaign: former campaign manager Paul Manafort, his business partner Rick Gates, and campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos.

Gaetz said that he spoke to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Sept. 28 and asked him to appoint another special counsel to look into the uranium deal, but that Sessions claimed his own recusal from all matters related to the 2016 campaign prevented him from weighing in on the matter. Staffers for deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein, Gaetz added, would not commit to making a decision on his request.