I have to say, when I published last night I did not anticipate being back so quickly, but I cannot imagine a better reason. This afternoon (May 17th, for those of you reading this later) the news broke that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller III as special counsel, in charge of investigating all matters pertaining to collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump, his campaign, and his administration. Mueller is a veteran of the Vietnam war, Deputy Attorney General under President George Bush Jr, and a former FBI director who served with great praise under Presidents Bush and Obama. He has the full confidence of the FBI, is known to have a strong working relationship with former FBI director James Comey, and is respected by both parties. He has also been selected, on multiple occasions, to investigate ethical and legal violations in high-profile cases, including the NFL’s Ray Rice scandal, and the VW’s cheating on emissions tests. It is truly difficult to imagine a better choice.
So what is a special council? First, it is important to note that since the Congressional decision to allow the Independent Council Statute of 1999 to expire, there is no provision in the government to allow for a truly independent prosecutor. Thus, in this position, Mueller will still serve at the pleasure of Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, given Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from any matters pertaining to Trump/Russia, and by extension, the President. (That said, the uproar that would result from his ouster for anything less than a highly unlikely criminal act would be beyond description– look no further than Nixon.) What this really means is that if Mueller requires further resources to continue his investigation, he will have to request them from Rosenstein–who will likely be inclined to grant such requests, again, unless they are beyond reason– and at the conclusion of his inquiry, Mueller will have to present a confidential report to Rosenstein, who will then have the ultimate authority as to whether or not to declassify the report for public viewing (Maddow, 17 May 2017). However, outside of these requirements, Mueller will have all of the authority of a United States Attorney General, including the authority to appoint his own staff, to subpoena, and to file and prosecute federal criminal charges.
If you have not been tracing the news moment to moment over the past nine days, you might well be wondering what brought this on when, not a week ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) opined unequivocally that such an appointment was unnecessary. Thus, the trigger was not Comey’s firing. Instead, it appears to be some combination of Trump’s decision to share ultra-classified intelligence with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador, and the statement recently made by James Comey that Trump had asked him to end the investigation into the former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, leading to questions of obstruction of justice. (As of this writing, it has also come to light that the White House was conclusively aware that Flynn was operating as a foreign agent at the time of his hiring, and elected to share State secrets with him nonetheless.) As we all know, there are precious few coincidences in the political arena, and while Rosenstein did not give an explicit explanation for the timing of his choice to appoint a special counsel, these events seem too timely not to be involved. The other notable piece of timing is this: Rosenstein made the announcement while Jeff Sessions was at the White House, purportedly assisting the President in interviewing candidates to fill the vacancy at the FBI. This does not say anything in itself, but it certainly is interesting. It is also noteworthy that the President was not informed of this ahead of time, and was only made aware following Mueller’s official appointment–effectively ensuring he could not pre-empt or otherwise interfere with the decision.
Meanwhile, for his part, Trump has issued a statement reiterating his denial of any collusion and expressing his hope that a special counsel will allow the investigation to conclude quickly. I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were you, Mr. Trump. Quite frankly, if this investigation does end quickly it will be with criminal charges because of an abundance of evidence already collected by the intelligence community.
This is it folks. This is the day that Donald Trump loses control of this process in its entirety, and we all get a glimpse at the possibility of regaining our Republic while it is still somewhat intact. Now, we continue to resist Trump’s agenda items–expect a fair amount of distractive legislation and for the President to adopt a temperament that even more closely resembles a rabid dog than before– and we hope that he can manage to pull off his first foreign trip without inciting an international incident.
In the meantime, as always: stay alert, stay informed, and stay safe.
— This is the ALF, signing off.