Ex-FBI Director Mueller Appointed As Special Counsel To Oversee Russia Probe

May 18, 2017
Originally published on May 18, 2017 5:36 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Justice Department has named former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel overseeing its investigation into Russia's role in the U.S. election. NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is covering this. She joins me now.

Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Bob Mueller is a familiar name in Washington. What can you tell us about him?

JOHNSON: He's almost a lifelong public servant, former federal prosecutor, a U.S. attorney in San Francisco. And, Rachel, he served as FBI director for 12 years. Normally, the director serves for just 10. President Obama searched and searched - couldn't find a proper replacement. So the Senate actually passed a law to allow him to serve for two more years. A few years ago, he went into private practice. Now here he is coming back into public service all over again.

MARTIN: So naming special counsel is a big deal. This happened as pretty much a surprise announcement by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, last night. Can you explain what will be different about this investigation now that Bob Mueller is heading it? Who does he answer to? Who are his staff?

JOHNSON: Sure, Rachel. So he was appointed by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. The attorney general in this case, Jeff Sessions, is recused. He recused himself from all matters relating to the 2016 campaign. And in his order appointing the special counsel, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein laid out what Robert Mueller's supposed to be looking at. That includes any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with Donald Trump's campaign as well as any other matters that arose or may arise from the investigation, including possible obstruction of justice or lying.

Now, Bob Mueller has his choice of staff. He can use the FBI agents and others already working on these matters inside the Justice Department, or he can bring in his own people. And last night, we heard he's bringing in two people from his team at the law firm. One was his chief of staff at the FBI, Aaron Zebley, the other James Quarrels, a longtime lawyer in Washington who was a prosecutor on Watergate matters.

MARTIN: We should mention that Mueller and those two lawyers have all resigned from that law firm just to eliminate conflict of interest concerns.

So is this move going to satisfy those in Congress, Democrats in particular, who have worried about the Department of Justice's impartiality in carrying out this investigation?

JOHNSON: Well, the immediate aftermath to the appointment of Mueller was remarkable, in my view, in Washington, having been here this many years. Charles Schumer, the Senate minority leader Democrat from New York, said this made him feel substantially better that the investigation would be conducted properly.

Obviously, this is one of the most sensitive things to happen in Washington in the last 10 years, and there's a lot of concern about independence and courage within the Justice Department and the FBI. The appointment of Robert Mueller appears to have satisfied a lot of critics, but they want to make sure, Democrats in Congress, that he has enough money and resources to do this job right. Mueller can be fired by the deputy attorney general but only for cause and only with notice to Congress in advance.

MARTIN: What does this mean for the other investigations happening? There's one in the Senate intel committee, House intelligence committee. Does this new investigation led by Mueller - does it run parallel, or is it more significant?

JOHNSON: Well, they're going to have to figure all this out. Those congressional committees do not have the power to bring criminal charges. Robert Mueller will as special counsel. But in fact, at the way things have been operating so far, the Hill has been very careful to not get under the feet of federal prosecutors and FBI agents. I expect that pattern to continue moving forward.

MARTIN: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson.

Carrie, thanks so much.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.