Republicans are upping their attacks on the integrity of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Some observers believe this to be a tactic to discredit any findings in Mueller’s investigation that could serve as a basis for impeaching President Trump.

NBC News reports:

Seizing on newly released, politically charged text messages between two FBI officials who are no longer part of Mueller’s investigation, Republicans used an oversight hearing of the House Judiciary Committee to accuse Mueller, a Republican, of conducting a tainted inquiry. They also charged that senior FBI officials have allowed political beliefs to influence the outcome of investigations.

“We are now beginning to better understand the magnitude of this insider bias on Mr. Mueller’s team,” said the chairman of the committee, Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia.

The text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page allegedly described the potential of a Trump presidency as “terrifying” and said that Hillary Clinton “just has to win.” When Mueller learned of the messages, which were obtained as part of an investigation by the Justice Department, he removed Strzok from the investigation.

GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said at the oversight hearing that this was not enough. “The public trust in this whole thing is gone. It seems to me there are two things you can do: You can disband the Mueller special prosecutor, and you can do what we’ve all called for and appoint a second special counsel to look into this.”

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller to lead the probe, defended Mueller’s character and the integrity of his investigation. According to The New York Times:

Mr. Rosenstein mounted a step-by-step defense of Mr. Mueller’s conduct. He noted that department rules prevented Mr. Mueller from taking political affiliation into consideration when hiring for career positions, and he distinguished between officials holding political views and making investigative decisions out of bias. He said Mr. Mueller would be careful not to allow the latter.

“We recognize we have employees with political opinions. And it’s our responsibility to make sure those opinions do not influence their actions,” Rosenstein said. “I believe that Director Mueller understands that, and he is running that office appropriately.”

Mueller, a registered Republican, was selected by George W. Bush to head the FBI, though he has long been criticized by conservative media. Vox explains the background of this bias against Mueller:

Media outlets like CNN, Bloomberg, and the Wall Street Journal misreported critical facts in a way that erroneously suggested nefarious or illegal action on [the] part of Trump associates. They were eventually corrected, but not before lending credence to the Trump-led “fake news” and “witch hunt” narrative surrounding Mueller’s probe.

That narrative is being pushed out aggressively in the conservative media echo chamber. Sean Hannity, Fox News’s top Trump defender and biggest on-air personality, has led the anti-Mueller push since October. On his Tuesday night show, Hannity said “there was collusion” in the 2016 race—but somewhat creatively tried to argue that the wrongdoing was committed by Democrats, not by Trump. (It should go without saying that Hannity is resting, to put it mildly, on extremely thin ice.)

Vox also notes that the GOP effort to diminish the probe relies on the assertion that Mueller cannot lead an impartial investigation because he once worked for FBI Director James Comey, perhaps after a report in Washingtonian on Mueller and Comey’s bonding over their disapproval of how the Bush administration handled the war on terror. Some arguments against Mueller are based on the assertion that Democrats paid for the Trump dossier, an intelligence document by a former British intelligence officer that claims that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election.

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