When Robert Mueller was appointed as Special Counsel to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, his appointment was met with praise on both sides of the aisle. We’re talking about a former FBI director who served for 12 years and led this country through the 9/11 investigation. Social media, newspapers and televised media were all asking the same question: was this the man who could bring the much needed autonomy and integrity to this investigation? However, looking deeper into it, it may have been premature jubilation.
This investigation isn’t as “independent” and may not be as “impartial” as the Trump DOJ would have us believe. I do believe that Rod Rosenstein acted with the best intentions when he appointed a special counsel to head the investigation; however, he’s an expert lawyer, and he knows that Trump could fire him and Mueller at a moment’s notice.
In order for this investigation to proceed independently and unhindered, we would need a special prosecutor who could bring criminal charges (if need be), AND a political body not bound to the executive branch. Therefore, we need Congress to reauthorize the independent counsel statute which expired in 1999. The independent counsel statute guarantees an independent prosecutor distinct from the Attorney General or the DOJ, who reports to Congress and cannot be fired by the President or AG.
This statute came about in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal in which President Nixon ordered his DOJ to fire the special prosecutor tasked with obtaining the White House tapes from him. It was only after the events of the “Saturday Night Massacre” that Congress realized there needed to be an independent authority tasked with investigations such as these. Not only was this statute passed in 1978, but it was also upheld constitutionally in a 7-1 Supreme Court decision in Morrison v. Olson.
I’m sure you’re wondering why the statute was allowed to expire in the first place. Simply put, the statute worked too well sometimes. Republicans started to get upset during the Iran-Contra investigation, which resulted in 7 guilty pleas, and Democrats certainly weren’t fond of the investigation into President Clinton’s extramarital affair. Politics got in the way of impartial investigations.
However, times are different now. We live in a dangerous, uncertain time where the President of the United States and his White House staff are under investigation for collusion with the Russian government to undermine a U.S. presidential election. It’s time to put politics aside and realize that this isn’t simply a major threat to a singular party, but rather to the very fabric of our nation bound by free and open elections.