White House Special Counsel Robert Mueller has found himself in hot water this week as a possible conflict of interest in his overseeing the Russia election probe has come to light.

The Hill reported that back in 2009, when Mueller was running the FBI, the bureau asked Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to spend millions of his own dollars funding an FBI-supervised operation to rescue a retired FBI agent, Robert Levinson, captured in Iran while working for the CIA in 2007. This is the same Deripaska who has surfaced in Mueller’s current investigation and who was recently sanctioned by the Trump administration.

Multiple sources say that one of the agents who helped court Deripaska was Andrew McCabe, the recently fired deputy FBI director who started the Trump-Russia case.

“Deripaska’s efforts came very close to success,” said David McGee, a former federal prosecutor who represents Levinson’s family. “We were told at one point that the terms of Levinson’s release had been agreed to by Iran and the U.S. and included a statement by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointing a finger away from Iran. At the last minute Secretary Clinton decided not to make the agreed-on statement.”

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz said that he thinks Mueller has a conflict of interest because his FBI previously accepted financial help from a Russian that is, at the very least, a witness in the current probe.

“The real question becomes whether it was proper to leave him (Deripaska) out of the Manafort indictment, and whether that omission was to avoid the kind of transparency that is really required by the law,” Dershowitz said.

Melanie Sloan, a former Clinton Justice Department lawyer and longtime ethics watchdog, said that a “far more significant issue” is whether the earlier FBI operation was even legal.

“It’s possible the bureau’s arrangement with Mr. Deripaska violated the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits the government from accepting voluntary services,” she said.

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