WASHINGTON – A conservative watchdog group said internal Justice Department emails show a senior prosecutor assigned to special counsel Robert Mueller III is biased against President Trump.
Judicial Watch, a group that has been seeking government records about senior members of the Justice Department during the Obama administration, released emails Tuesday showing officials praised then-acting attorney general Sally Yates when she ordered staff not to defend Trump's first travel ban in court.
One of those emails came from Andrew Weissmann, now a senior adviser to Mueller's ongoing probe into whether Trump associates may have conspired with Russian agents to interfere with the 2016 election.
At the time, Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, had just sent a memo to staff in late January instructing them not to defend the travel ban in court. The travel ban executive order was just a few days old when she made that decision, and there was a great deal of uncertainty about whether courts would rule it discriminated against Muslims.
Some federal judges blocked key parts of early versions of the ban before the Supreme Court ruled that the third iteration of it could be enforced.
At the time of Yates' action, she was running the Justice Department until a Trump appointee could be confirmed. Within hours of her decision not to defend the ban, she was fired by Trump. Weissmann then sent her an email saying: "I am so proud. And in awe. Thank you so much." He signed it, "all my deepest respects."
Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton said the email was further evidence of political bias on Mueller's team, and he called for the entire investigation to be shut down.
"This is an astonishing and disturbing find," Fitton said. "A key prosecutor on Robert Mueller's team praised Obama DOJ holdover Sally Yates after she lawlessly thwarted President Trump."
A spokesman for the special counsel's office declined to comment.
Emily Pierce, a former Justice Department spokeswoman, said: "Agreeing with Sally Yates on her handling of a complex legal matter does not indicate bias against the president, and it certainly doesn't have anything to do with how Andrew conducts himself as a prosecutor – which in my experience is thoughtfully and with a fair and impartial examination of facts."
Judicial Watch has filed Freedom of Information Act requests and lawsuits seeking to get access to internal deliberations involving the FBI's probe of Hillary Clinton's private email server, as well as the airport tarmac meeting of then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former president Bill Clinton in 2016 when Hillary Clinton was under investigation.
In those matters, Judicial Watch has said the documents it has received show political bias inside the Justice Department and FBI in favor of Clinton and Democrats, and against Trump and Republicans.
Weissmann was far from the only Justice Department official who praised Yates in private emails over her travel ban stance, but he is the only one working on the Mueller probe.
Thomas Delahanty, then the U.S. attorney for Maine, wrote to Yates, "You are my hero."