Seeking to move the investigation along, the Department of Justice appointed former FBI Director Bob Mueller as special counsel over the Russian election interference investigation.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein named Mueller, who served for 12 years as FBI director under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, to the post on Wednesday evening.
“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,” said Rosenstein in a statement. “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.”
The special counsel role is described as a coordination and facilitation one. Mueller can assign resources, issue subpoenas, impanel grand juries and coordinate the FBI and congressional investigations.
President Trump responded positively to the announcement.
“A thorough investigation will confirm what we already know,” the president said in a statement. “There was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country.”
Congressional democrats have demanded a special counsel or commission for weeks. Now that Trump has given them one, it may be a double-edged sword.
Special prosecutors, commissions and counselors historically had broad latitude to take their investigations wherever they saw fit. The order appointing Rosenstein and defining his scope leaves him the same freedom. A Russian connection investigation could expand beyond the election and look into the irregularities of payments made by Russians to the Clintons. The payments came just as Secretary of State Clinton allowed a significant portion of American uranium mining reserves to be sold to Russia.
The probe, which will certainly look into the DNC emails sent to WikiLeaks may also discover that Democratic party staffer Seth Rich sent the emails to WikiLeaks. That discovery would destroy the credibility of the FBI and the DNC who have been pushing the Russian hacking narrative.
The investigation may discover links between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials. Michael Flynn is in jeopardy for failing to report money from speeches he gave.
Any outcome from the special counsel could string out the process. The Whitewater special counsel investigation lasted 10 years. Democrats believe that the longer the Russia story stays in the press, the better their chances to regain majorities in the House and Senate.
Special Counsel Mueller has agreed to resign from his private law firm in order to avoid any conflicts of interest with firm clients or attorneys. But Mueller’s appointment is not without concern. As FBI director, he reported to then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey.