Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Speical Counsel Named

by David McLaughlin and Andrew M Harri
Bloomberg Politics, May 17, 2017, 3 PM PDT

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller is being named special counsel to oversee the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election, the Justice Department said.

The naming of Mueller, who oversaw the FBI during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, comes as the White House is reeling from President Donald Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey and allegations that Trump asked Comey in February to end his probe of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn

The FBI’s probe into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election and potential links with Trump’s campaign has been overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year recused himself after it was revealed he had not disclosed conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. Rosenstein made the decision to name Mueller, the Justice Department told reporters Wednesday. It isn’t clear if Trump had a role in the decision

Mueller, 72, served as FBI director under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and was the longest serving head of the bureau since J. Edgar Hoover. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, as the U.S. was ramping up security, he joined then-Deputy Attorney General Comey in threatening to resign if the White House overruled a Justice Department opinion that domestic wiretapping without a warrant was unconstitutional.

Before joining the FBI, Mueller served as a U.S. Attorney in San Francisco and held other positions in the Justice Department. Obama asked Mueller to stay in office two years beyond the normal 10-year term.

So, why a "special counsel," and not a special prosecutor?

According to an article in PBS, the 1977 law that created the role of the “special prosecutor,” placing few limitations on the length, cost or scope of independent investigations, expired in 1999. As a result, that option is effectively off the table, unless Congress reauthorizes the law or passes a new one. Neither scenario seems likely right now, with Republicans in control of Congress and Mr. Trump in the White House.

The decision to appoint a special counsel would normally be made by the Justice Department’s top official, Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But Sessions recused himself in March from any DOJ probe involving Trump’s 2016 campaign. Sessions, who served as an adviser to the campaign, made the announcement after several news organizations reported that he failed in his confirmation hearings to disclose his meetings with a Russian official during the election.

A special counsel is an investigator with less freedom than a special prosecutor, and whose investigation could be curtailed or stopped altogether at any time by the Trump administration.

Mueller receives the authority of a U.S. attorney to carry out the investigation. But the rules give the Justice Department’s top official final say over the scope and jurisdiction of the inquiry, and the authority to remove the special counsel essentially at will.

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