The Justice Department has named former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller as special counsel to oversee the Trump-Russia investigation.
New York Times
Robert Mueller III, who was named special counsel on Wednesday to oversee the Trump-Russia investigation, is charged with revealing the truth about suspicions that reach into the highest levels of the Trump campaign and White House.
Given the “unique circumstances” of the case, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in making the appointment, a special counsel “is necessary in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome” of the investigation.
Mr. Rosenstein is absolutely right, and he has done the nation a service in choosing Mr. Mueller, one of the few people with the experience, stature and reputation to see the job through. Mr. Mueller led the F.B.I. for 12 years under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In 2004, he and Mr. Comey, then deputy attorney general, threatened to resign if President Bush allowed a domestic-surveillance program to continue without Justice Department approval.
This was an essential and reassuring step after a series of alarming developments. The first question for Mr. Mueller will be whether the Russian government meddled in the 2016 presidential election. The second question will be whether anyone in the Trump campaign colluded in the meddling. And the third question will be whether anyone in the administration, up to and including President Trump, illegally tried to interfere with investigations into the alleged meddling and collusion.
An independent inquiry is needed because of statements and actions by Mr. Trump that raised serious concern about executive interference. These include his reported request in January that then-FBI Director James B. Comey swear his loyalty to the president; his reported attempt a month later to persuade Mr. Comey to drop an investigation of Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, who had to quit after he lied about the nature of his contacts with Russian officials; and his decision last week to fire Mr. Comey. Mr. Trump initially put forward false explanations for that firing but eventually admitted that he was motivated by his displeasure with the FBI’s investigation of alleged Russian interference.
His job is not to inform the public or to pass judgment on actions that may have been unwise, inappropriate or unethical — but did not violate the law. That is why this appointment does not let Congress off the hook. The American public needs a full accounting of Russian interference in the 2016 election; of American cooperation in that meddling, if any; and of administration efforts to impede investigations into the meddling and collusion, if they took place. The House and Senate intelligence committees are working on aspects of all that, and those must continue. But a full accounting is likely to emerge only if Congress appoints a special commission like the one that investigated the 9/11 attacks. With the Trump administration having led the way, Congress too should act.
Wall Street Journal
The problem with special counsels, as we’ve learned time and again, is that they are by definition all but politically unaccountable. While technically Mr. Rosenstein could fire Mr. Mueller if he goes too far, the manner of his appointment and the subject he’s investigating make him de facto untouchable even if he becomes an abusive Javert like Patrick Fitzgerald during the George W. Bush Administration.
What the country really needs is a full accounting of how the Russians tried to influence the election and whether any Americans assisted them. That is fundamentally a counterintelligence investigation, but Mr. Mueller will be under pressure to bring criminal indictments of some kind to justify his existence. He’ll also no doubt bring on young attorneys who will savor the opportunity to make their reputation on such a high-profile investigation.
I think I agree most with the editors’ of the Washington Post’s take above. I welcome the appointment of a special counsel; it’s what I’ve wanted all along; I think the action should have been taken some time ago; it looks like Mr. Mueller is a good man for the job. I would also welcome the appointment of a special commission.
We’ll see where this takes us as events unfold.