The Justice Department appointed former F.B.I., director Robert Mueller, as special counsel on Wednesday to oversee the investigation into ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russia interference in the 2016 election.
Deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein’s decision, was announced on the heels of Trump’s abrupt dismissal of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and the subsequent disclosure that Donald Trump allegedly asked Comey to drop the investigation of his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Mr. Rosenstein had been pressured by Democrats, and some Republicans, to appoint a special counsel to oversee the Russia probe after writing a memo that the White House initially cited as the rationale for Mr. Comey’s dismissal.
“In my capacity as acting attorney general I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a special counsel to assume responsibility for this matter,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein statement.
“My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination. What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command.”
Robert S. Mueller III, a former F.B.I. director under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, was chosen to oversee the inquiry amid escalating pressure.
Who is Robert S. Mueller III?
Mueller was named director of the FBI on Sept. 4, 2001, a week before the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC that killed nearly 3,000 people. A former Marine Corps officer and Vietnam veteran, he worked in states attorney-generals’ offices and the Department of Justice before being appointed to lead the FBI. He extended his 10-year term at the request of former president Barack Obama, making him the longest-serving director since J. Edgar Hoover. Before he stepped down in 2013, Mueller often spoke about the threats that cybercrime and state-sponsored hackers posed to the US’s national security.
What is Mueller’s first task?
The Justice Department’s order authorizes Mueller to investigate any “links and/or coordination” between the Russian government and the Trump campaign and any related matters that arise, and to prosecute any federal crimes that he uncovers. Since he left the FBI, Mueller has been working in a private law firm (he will step down from that job). His very first task will focus on the Russia investigation that’s been ongoing since last July and generated thousands of pages of documents. An estimated 15 to 20 FBI agents are working on it full-time. Mueller is bringing two attorneys with him from the private firm, Aaron Zebley, who worked with him at the FBI, and James Quarles, who was an assistant special prosecutor on the Watergate Special Prosecution Force.
What should the investigation reveal?
A special prosecutor has one hefty downside, compared to congressional committees or an independent commission: he is there to uncover crimes rather than find out everything that happened. This means Mueller and his team can uncover any number of legal, but deeply serious, wrongdoings and be obliged to keep quiet about them. “If it’s not a prosecutable crime, it might as well never have happened, from a prosecutor’s point of view,” as former George W. Bush speechwriter and ardent Trump critic David Frum recently outlined. Frum called for an independent congressional commission or committee of experts to conduct a full probe that would seek truth rather than crimes.
In 2004, James Comey—then the acting attorney-general—appointed Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the Bush administration’s exposure of Valerie Plame as a covert CIA agent. That eventually resulted in the conviction of Scooter Libby, vice-president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, for lying during the investigation.
How long will Mueller’s investigation take?
Past investigations have taken anywhere from a little over a year (Watergate) to four years (Whitewater and Lewinsky). Mueller’s probe could be more complex than the Watergate scandal, since it involves a foreign power. The special prosecutor is under no obligation to close the investigation within a certain timeframe.
What’s the difference between a special prosecutor and special counsel?
Largely semantic, the title “special prosecutor” was changed to “independent counsel” in 1983 to sound “less prejudicial” as part of the renewal of a 1978 law, formalizing the procedures around the position. After that law expired in 1999, the title became “special counsel.” While it’s equivalent to a special prosecutor, though, a special counsel has less independence (pdf, p.4) from the Department of Justice (DOJ). However, his powers can be broadened if the attorney general so decides, as Comey did with Fitzgerald in 2004.
What is the White House saying about Mueller’s appointment?
The White House was given only about 30 minutes warning before the announcement was made. An hour after it came out, the president issued a statement:
“As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know—there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country.”