How Vietnam Shaped Robert S. Mueller

Robert S. Mueller (Photo by Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Despite sharing a privileged upbringing and education, the paths of Donald Trump and Robert Mueller diverged sharply during the Vietnam War. While Trump deferred the draft five times to enter his father’s real estate business, Mueller received a Bronze Star with a distinction for valor for his active role in combat during some of the most intense fighting in the conflict.

At Wired, Garrett M. Graff reports on how serving in Vietnam instilled a discipline and relentlessness in Robert S. Mueller that underpins his approach to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Today, the face-off between Special Counsel Robert Mueller and President Donald Trump stands out, amid the black comedy of Trump’s Washington, as an epic tale of diverging American elites: a story of two men—born just two years apart, raised in similar wealthy backgrounds in Northeastern cities, both deeply influenced by their fathers, both star prep school athletes, both Ivy League educated—who now find themselves playing very different roles in a riveting national drama about political corruption and Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The two men have lived their lives in pursuit of almost diametrically opposed goals—Mueller a life of patrician public service, Trump a life of private profit.

This first in-depth account of his year at war is based on multiple interviews with Mueller about his time in combat—conducted before he became special counsel—as well as hundreds of pages of once-classified Marine combat records, official accounts of Marine engagements, and the first-ever interviews with eight Marines who served alongside Mueller in 1968 and 1969. They provide the best new window we have into the mind of the man leading the Russia investigation.

Decades later, Mueller would tell me that nothing he ever confronted in his career was as challenging as leading men in combat and watching them be cut down. “You see a lot, and every day after is a blessing,” he told me in 2008. The memory of Mutter’s Ridge put everything, even terror investigations and showdowns with the Bush White House, into perspective. “A lot is going to come your way, but it’s not going to be the same intensity.”

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