The hidden stories behind the special counsel (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File
FILE - In this April 21, 2016 file photo, attorney and former FBI Director Robert Mueller, right, arrives for a court hearing at the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco. Mueller has been overseeing settlement talks with Volkswagen, the U.S. government and private lawyers. Mueller is being honored with an award from West Point. The U.S. Military Academy’s Association of Graduates will present the Thayer Award to Mueller on Thursday evening, Oct. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein finally did something that he should have done as soon as he was confirmed to his post: hand the Russia investigation to a special counsel with an impeccable reputation for hard work, tenacity, and fairness.

The Trump-Russia-Mike Flynn-James Comey story just got a whole lot more interesting.
The fact that Robert Mueller, a former federal prosecutor and FBI Director, was chosen to direct the investigation means that the facts of the case will eventually get out. Mueller detail-oriented investigative approach, his bureaucratic acumen (he saved the FBI from being smashed like a hammer after the September 11th attacks), and his sterling reputation across both sides of the aisle mean that it would politically perilous — in addition to legally treacherous — for the Trump White House to be seen as not cooperating with the probe. There is a reason why the Trump administration didn’t support the Justice Department appointing a special counsel into the Russia matter: special counsels are unpredictable, and the course of the investigation could expand faster than the administration is able to respond.
The coverage to date has concentrated primarily on the reputation of Robert Mueller, the man. But there are several stories hidden underneath the larger story that should also be given some consideration:
  • Where will the investigation lead?: Independent counsels, special counsels and special prosecutors (yes, there are differences) have a tendency to elevate DoJ investigations into territory that those being investigated would prefer to be ignored. Just ask President Bill Clinton; what was originally an inquiry (headed by Ken Starr) into land deals in Arkansas ended up as an indictment of his personal life, causing him all kinds of embarrassment on the world stage and eventually producing a recommendation from the independent counsel that there were sufficient grounds for impeachment. Patrick Fitzgerald’s inquiry into the Valeria Plate leak case resulted in the indictment and conviction of a top White House staffer on five counts of lying to a grand jury and providing false statements. Like Starr and Fitzgerald before him, Mueller will be asking White House officials to give depositions. And if Trump officials deliberately obstruct the inquiry or lie in the depositions, they could find themselves in the same boat as Scooter Libby.
  •  Rosenstein’s revenge:  It was no secret that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein was angry about how the James Comey firing was handled. Rosenstein’s memo outlining Comey’s sins during the Clinton email case was used by White House officials as the main reason for the FBI Director’s dismissal — indeed, until Trump gave that interview to NBC’s Lester Holt, White House spokesmen were hiding behind Rosenstein’s good reputation, something that reportedly caused the Deputy Attorney General’s blood to boil. His decision to appoint Mueller as a special counsel — notifying the White House only after the order was signed — is a not-so subtle message from Rosenstein that he’s serious about defending his integrity and is in nobody’s pocket.

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  •  Don’t forget about Congress: Just because Mueller is now on the case doesn’t mean that Congress will stop investigating. The Senate Intelligence Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee will continue to do their work, call (and perhaps compel) witnesses to testify publicly and request (and if opposed, subpoena) documents, notes, audio files and any other records that they deem relevant to the probe. In 1973, the Nixon White House had to fight multiple investigations into Watergate. In 2017, the Trump White House will be doing the same thing on possible collusion with Russian operatives during last year’s presidential election.
Daniel DePetris About the author:
Daniel R. DePetris is an associate analyst at the Raddington Group, and a contributor to the National Interest.
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