Ex-FBI head to take over Russia probe: Justice Department appoints Robert Mueller as special counsel

The Russia probe gets serious — but some say one special prosecutor isn't going far enough

By Sophia Tesfaye

Published May 17, 2017 6:58PM (EDT)


Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced on Wednesday that the Justice Department had named former FBI director Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to head the probe into Russia’s possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

“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,” Rosenstein said a statement announcing the pick.

Rosenstein reportedly gave less than 30 minutes' notice to the White House before making the announcement.

Mueller’s appointment comes roughly one week after the president fired FBI director James Comey, citing a memo by Rosenstein that criticized Comey's handling of the Clinton email investigation.

As only the second special counsel appointed by the Justice Department in history, Mueller will have 60 days to put together a budget for resources to conduct the investigation. Mueller will have all the authority of a U.S. Attorney and the power to bring in staff from outside the Justice Department. He will, however, ultimately report to Rosenstein, the second-in-command at the Justice Department. (Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from any investigation into Russia’s involvement with the election.)

"Special Counsel Mueller will have all appropriate resources to conduct a thorough and complete investigation, and I am confident that he will follow the facts, apply the law and reach a just result," said Rosenstein in the statement.

Mueller has agreed to resign from his private law firm, Wilmer Hale, to pursue the probe, the Justice Department said.

News of Mueller's appointment was greeted by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill late Wednesday.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Oversight Committee called Mueller "a solid choice."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued this statement: “A special prosecutor is the first step, but it cannot be the last. Director Mueller will still be in the chain of command under the Trump-appointed leadership of the Justice Department. He cannot take the place of a truly independent, outside commission that is completely free from the Trump Administration’s meddling. A special prosecutor does not negate the need for vigorous Congressional investigations either."

But White House spokespeople told Politico that "they view the appointment of a special counsel as unnecessary."

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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