Democratic lawmakers have gotten their long-held wish: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Wednesday appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to take over the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Mueller, a former federal prosecutor, took the helm of the FBI a week before the 9/11 terrorist attacks and served until 2013. He will have broad authority as special counsel to investigate all things Russia, including possible collusion with President Donald Trump’s campaign. He also could investigate suggestions that Trump obstructed justice by suggesting to then-FBI Director James Comey he hoped the FBI would consider backing off its investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
“My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted.”
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Mueller now will hire a staff and will run the probe outside the normal chain of command in the Justice Department, although he still will report to Rosenstein, who has ultimate responsibility for the investigation because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself due to his role as a Trump surrogate during the campaign.
In a statement announcing the move, Rosenstein promised Mueller would have all the resources he needs.
“My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted,” he said in the statement. “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.”
Joseph diGenova, who served as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia under Ronald Reagan, told LifeZette that Rosenstein had little choice given the furor over a New York Times report that Comey documented in a private memo that Trump asked him in February to let the Flynn matter drop.
“It’s an excellent choice, and I think it was needed to restore public confidence,” he said. “Rosenstein found himself in an untenable position, and I can certainly understand it.”
Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor who handled several high-profile terrorism cases in New York, said Mueller is a good choice. It said the selection of Mueller is key for ensuring public confidence.
“It hinges on the person who’s chosen rather than the structure,” he said. “He’s clearly going to have credibility on both sides … He checks all the boxes that he needed to check.”
The decision, an abrupt departure from Rosentein’s indication only a few days ago that a special counsel was not needed, drew bipartisan plaudits.
“As much as many of us have been despairing about the state of our democracy, the decision by Rod Rosenstein to actually identify a special counsel and name Robert Mueller is remarkable,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “Lots of profiles in courage … It took a lot of guts for him to make this decision.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who opposed Rosenstein’s confirmation because he would not promise to appoint a special counsel, called the decision “a very solid and significant step.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, tweeted that “Mueller is a great selection. Impeccable credentials. Should be widely accepted.”
The White House released a brief statement reiterating there was no Trump campaign collusion with Russia.
“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,” Trump said in a statement. “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.”