Washington, May 18
The US department of justice has appointed Robert Mueller, a highly regarded former FBI director, as special counsel to investigate allegations of links between the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump and Moscow.
Mueller’s surprise appointment came a day after reports surfaced of Trump asking fired FBI director James Comey to end his investigation into Michael Flynn’s interactions with Russians in the Oval Office the day after the national security adviser was booted out in February.
Mueller was named the special prosecutor by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who has direct oversight over the FBI and whose recommendation was initially cited for Comey’s firing last week.
Rosenstein did not clear the appointment with Trump or his ally attorney general Jeff Sessions.
Trump, who was told of the appointment after it was signed, said in 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.”
Appointment of a special counsel is rare – the last one was more than a decade ago. And it can be potentially dangerous, as the office comes with sweeping powers to look under every stone, pebble, which can sometime throw up unexpected results. White House intern Monica Lewinsky’s relationship with Bill Clinton was found out during an unrelated investigation of the president in 1998 by a special counsel.
Rosenstein said based on “unique circumstances” and in public interest he determined the investigation had to overseen by “a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command” and who would “have all appropriate resources to conduct a thorough and complete investigation”.
Mueller’s brief was to investigate “any links and or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump and (the reason why the White House would be worried) … any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation”. The appointment was welcomed by both Democrats and Republicans. “Former director Mueller is exactly the right kind of individual to serve as special counsel in the Russia investigation,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said. Preet Bharara, former US attorney for Southern District of New York, gave Mueller a glowing review as well. “Having known him for years, I believe special counsel Mueller is a very good thing. He is one of the best — independent and no-nonsense,” he tweeted.
Picked to head the FBI by president George W Bush in 2001, Mueller took charge just a week after the September 11 terror attacks. He went on to serve for 12 years and is known to have stood up to Bush in resisting the extension of a post-9/11 domestic spying programme, together with then attorney general John Ashcroft and his deputy attorney James Comey.
Now, as a special counsel, he will carry forward Comey’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s Russia links, if any.
Mueller is considered the man who built the present FBI, which in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks swatted away attempts to dismember the agency by those looking for men, women and institutions to blame.
What is a special counsel?
A special counsel, or special prosecutor, is a lawyer appointed by the justice department – according to a system in place since 1999 – to pursue a specific case outside the usual chain of command.
A special counsel has independent powers to take the investigations through any course deemed necessary.
Some famous special counsels
Archibald Cox, a law professor, was appointed by president Richard Nixon to investigate the White House in the Watergate scandal. In those days, a president could appoint a special counsel but the process has since undergone multiple changes. Then, Ken Starr who investigated president Bill Clinton.
Why this could get tricky for Trump
With sweeping powers to steer the investigation in any direction seen necessary, a special counsel can often stumble upon the unexpected. White House intern Monica Lewinsky’s relationship was discovered during an unrelated probe against
Washington, May 18