May 17 (UPI) — The Justice Department on Wednesday appointed Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, to serve as special counsel for the department’s investigation into the Trump administration and Russia’s hacking of the 2016 election.
The announcement came from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Mueller is highly regarded in Washington circles — among both Democrats and Republicans — as one of the nation’s most credible law enforcement officials.
Mueller does not have the same autonomy as a special prosecutor, an individual appointed by the Justice Department who acts entirely beyond the department’s control to handle investigations where there could be a conflict of interest.
Because he was hired by the Justice Department he is ultimately accountable to Trump and could be fired on his order, as the previous head of the investigation, former FBI Director James Comey, was earlier this month.
Mueller does, however, have the same legal authority to issue subpoenas and acts at his own discretion in consulting or informing members of the administration about the investigation’s progress – authority not granted to a U.S. attorney under the Justice Department’s chain of command.
Mueller’s appointment comes after weeks of Democratic lawmakers calling on the administration to empower a special prosecutor to investigate Russia’s cyberattacks against Hillary Clinton and other Democratic groups — and whether Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians in that effort.
Thus far, no concrete evidence to that effect has been uncovered, a fact Rosenstein highlighted in announcing Mueller’s appointment.
“I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authorities and appoint a special counsel to assume responsibility for this matter,” Rosenstein said 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.”
Rosenstein is the top official at the Justice Department responsible for overseeing the investigation after Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general, recused himself from the Russia probe.