The White House vigorously opposed a special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation, but it could have major upsides for President Donald Trump, according to legal and political experts.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein late Wednesday acceded to growing demands by Democrats and appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to take over the investigation of Russian interference into the 2016 election — including possible collusion with Trump’s campaign.
“They should welcome this because this is going to allow them to not comment on anything about this. It’s under investigation.”
The decision takes the case outside of the normal structure of the Justice Department, which carries a certain element of risk for the president. But former federal prosector Joseph diGenova told LifeZette that it could be good news in the long run for the Trump administration. He noted that Mueller, in addition to looking at potential wrongdoing by Trump associates, also could examine illegal leaks by government employees who have spread classified information that has embarrassed Trump.
What’s more, diGenova said, it could spare the White House from daily questions.
“They should welcome this because this is going to allow them to not comment on anything about this,” he said. “It’s under investigation.”
Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor who handled the terrorism case against Omar Abdel-Rahman — the so-called “Blind Sheikh” — said his concern about special counsels is that they sometimes search for prosecutions to justify their existence.
“What that ends up becoming is, sometimes, you have an investigation of the investigation,” he said, pointing to the prosecution of former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby for lying to the FBI even though he had nothing to do with the leaking of former CIA agent Valerie Plame’s name — the reason the Justice Department appointed special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the first place.
But McCarthy said it could benefit Trump, as long as there is no incriminating evidence to turn up.
“It eventually is a political home run for the administration,” he said.
Mueller’s mandate is, indeed, broad. The DOJ mandate empanelling him includes a catch-all statement empowering Mueller to pursue “any other matters within the scope of” the special counsel statute.
Michael Johns, founder of the Tea Party Community, said previous prosecutors have drifted from their original charge.
“There’s always the risk of mission creep with special counsels,” he said. “It’s one of the downsides of appointing a special counsel.”
But Johns, who was a speechwriter for George H.W. Bush, agreed there are advantages. For one thing, he said, the public more likely would accept a pronouncement exonerating Trump from Mueller than from a political appointee.
“There is zero evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Trump administration,” he said. “The whole environment in Washington, D.C., right now is the most politically toxic of our lifetimes.”
Johns said it also is likely to reduce the daily siege mentality and make it easier for Trump to reset an agenda over which he has lost control.
“It completely removes any basis for the Democratic Party not getting back to work they should be pursuing,” he said.