Rod Rosenstein, the newly appointed Deputy Attorney General whose memorandum on former FBI Director Comey’s failings precipitated President Trump’s decision to dismiss former FBI Director Comey, has appointed Comey’s predecessor, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, to supervise the FBI’s Russiagate investigation.
Rosenstein’s announcement reads as follows
In my capacity as acting Attorney General, I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a Special Counsel to assume responsibility for this matter. My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination. 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.
Each year, the career professionals of the U.S. Department of Justice conduct tens of thousands of criminal investigations and handle countless other matters without regard to partisan political considerations. I have great confidence in the independence and integrity of our people and our processes. Considering the unique circumstances of this matter, however, I determined that a Special Counsel is necessary in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome. Our nation is grounded on the rule of law, and the public must be assured that government officials administer the law fairly. 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.
This is a correct decision. In my opinion President Trump would have saved himself a great deal of trouble if he had agreed to the appointment of a Special Counsel right at the outset of his Presidency. His resisting demands that he do so is a further example of the multiple errors he has made over the course of the Russiagate affair.
The result is that whereas Mueller’s appointment as Special Counsel at the outset of Trump’s Presidency would have defused the situation, his appointment now will be seen as a sign of weakness.
Having said this, it is essential that with Comey gone the Russiagate investigation is put in the charge of a safe pair of hands, and of someone who will not be seen as the President’s defender, and whose eventual findings are accepted, and Mueller seems by most accounts to be the sort of person to do that.
Mueller’s position as Special Counsel is not comparable to that of Kenneth Starr, the Special Counsel appointed during the Whitewater inquiry. Starr occupied the United States Office of Special Counsel, which was wholly independent of the Justice Department. The law establishing that office expired in 1999. Mueller by comparison will serve as essentially an outside consultant working for the Justice Department, much like the former Watergate Special Counsel, Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski.
Mueller appears to be a good choice for the job. He was a well regarded FBI director, staying in post from 2001 – when he was appointed by George W. Bush – until his retirement in 2013, when Comey replaced him. During that period he resisted the George W. Bush administration’s attempts to introduce interrogation methods since characterised as torture as part of the so-called ‘war on terror’. As someone well known to the staff of the FBI, he looks like the obvious person to do the job, and to steady the ship, and – hopefully – to bring some sanity to this investigation.
Mueller’s job will now be to bring order to the mess Comey has created, and to bring the various investigations into Russiagate that Obama’s Justice Department initiated to a proper close. If he does his job properly – and if he is left alone to do it – it should all be over by the summer.