Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced on Wednesday that a “special counsel” will be brought in to oversee the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into Russian interference in last year’s presidential election. Obama era, former F.B.I. Director, Robert S. Mueller, III, will take over the lead on investigations going forward.
Mueller’s appointment is just the latest in a set of events that has brought the question of Donald Trump’s relations with the Russian government to a full boil.
In the last few weeks, the country has witnessed the firing of the former F.B.I. Director, James B. Comey, Jr.; a report that Trump divulged sensitive intelligence in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak – and most recently, a memo detailing that President Trump attempted to compel Comey to refrain from proceeding forward with the investigation of his campaign’s collusion with Russian officials.
In a statement announcing Mueller’s appointment to the post, Rosenstein wrote in the memo that:
“I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authorities and appoint a special counsel to assume responsibility for this matter,” Mr. Rosenstein said in a statement. “My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination.”
Mr. Mueller, who will take a hiatus from his position with the law firm WilmerHale, is respected by Democrats and Republicans alike. Mueller was new to the position of director in September of 2001 following the 9/11 attacks and is recognized by his peers as having successfully managed the challenges of that office when the Bureau was in need of a strong hand at the helm.
“He’s an absolutely superb choice,” said Kathryn Ruemmler, a former prosecutor and White House counsel under Mr. Obama. “He will just do a completely thorough investigation without regard to public pressure or political pressure.” She added: “I cannot think about a better choice.”
Mueller is authorized by Rosenstein’s order, to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump’’ as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation’’ and any other matters that fall under the scope of the Justice Department regulation covering special counsel appointments.
The order further states that “If the special counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the special counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters.”
Peter Zeidenberg, who as assistant to a past special counsel and familiar with the demands of the role, called Mueller an “inspired choice’’ because he comes to the job with automatic credibility among both parties.
“He’s nominally a Republican, but he’s really not a political person at all. People are waiting for public answers to what happened, but that’s not his job. There won’t be a report or a press conference at the end of this from him, that’s not his role.’’