The Justice Department named former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel in its widening investigation of Russia’s interference during last year’s election. Mueller’s probe will investigate possible ties between the Kremlin and President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein pulled the trigger on the special counsel appointment earlier today. In a statement, Rosenstein said:
“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.
“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.”
As special counsel, Mueller would remain under Rosenstein’s authority, who himself is under the authority of the president. But, as the New York Times notes:
“…[Mueller] would have greater autonomy to run an investigation than a United States attorney would. Mr. Mueller will be able to choose to what extent to consult with or inform the Justice Department about his investigation as it goes forward.”
Mueller’s appointment is the latest development in a string of dramatic events this month that began with Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. Comey had reportedly requested more resources to investigate ties between Russia and the Trump campaign just days before he was fired.
Trump initially attributed Comey’s dismissal to a recommendation from the Justice Department. He later admitted that the decision to fire Comey was not premised on the Justice Department’s recommendation, and instead offered several competing explanations for his decision.
On Monday, reports surfaced that Trump had revealed classified information to two Russian diplomats during a meeting.
Then, yesterday, it was reported that Trump had asked Comey to drop an investigation into ties between Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the Kremlin. Flynn was dismissed from his post in February for failing to disclose communication between himself and Russia’s ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.
Mueller enjoys bipartisan support, having served 12 years as FBI director under former presidents Bush and Obama.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said:
“I see it as a positive thing, especially having Bob Mueller involved. It brings a lot of public credibility to whatever process they go through.”
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) agreed, calling Mueller’s appointment “a positive step.”
“I am hopeful that he will help us get to the bottom of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, including any role the president may have played. To ensure the American people have full confidence in this investigation, it must be conducted in an open and transparent manner and be given the full resources it needs. Additionally, the ongoing investigations by both the Senate and House must continue.”