Mueller? … Mueller?

This is big.  The fact that Trump totally trashed Rosenstein’s reputation on the Comey firing means Rosenstein wants to do what he can to salvage it. And, that means, appointing a serious special prosecutor.   This could ultimately prove to be some very, very bad news for Trump.  And, if there really is no there there, we can be confident in that result if that’s what Mueller determines.

Evan Osnos:

Rod Rosenstein’s decision is an important indication of the shifting mood in Washington: his appointment of Robert Mueller was an act of self-protection. A career prosecutor who was criticized for lending his voice to the firing of the former F.B.I. director James Comey, Rosenstein has chosen to hand off the Russia investigation, rejecting Republican leaders’ repeated statements that such a move was unnecessary, that he should soldier on amid criticisms of his independence. This is the move of a man who does not see his fate as strictly aligned with the President’s. The question facing Republicans in Congress and others throughout the executive branch is: How many are reaching the same conclusion?

Mueller has been handed what must be described as one of the most consequential jobs in American history, and his work could take months or years to complete. But—as I’ve written—investigations beget investigations. By reputation, Mueller is a meticulous investigator and fact-finder. He inspires bipartisan political support, and has abundant experience with pressure. President Trump just lost a lever with which to shape his own future.
John Cassidy:
Several aspects of this development are encouraging, beginning with the fact that it was Rosenstein who did the deed. With the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, having recused himself from dealing with the investigation following the revelation that he had made misleading statements about his meetings with the Russian Ambassador, Rosenstein demonstrated the independence for which he had been known until last week, when he wrote a memo to Sessions that effectively recommended the firing of James Comey, now the former head of the F.B.I.

Just minutes after Wednesday’s surprise announcement, some of Trump’s supporters were already accusing Rosenstein of buckling under pressure from Democrats and the mainstream media. What actually happened is that the legal system worked as it is meant to work. Given the revelation, earlier this week, that Trump allegedly asked Comey to drop the F.B.I.’s investigation of Michael Flynn, the former national-security adviser, and given the fact that Rosenstein himself was publicly associated with Comey’s dismissal, something had to be done to assure the public that the fix wasn’t in—that the Bureau’s investigators would pursue the Russia probe vigorously and professionally, regardless of where it took them.

Rosenstein, to his great credit, recognized this necessity and took action.

Josh Marshall:

First, this is a good pick.

Mueller has a strong reputation for professionalism. He was in DC for years. So people will have disagreements about this or that. He also headed the FBI for the whole post-9/11 era, during which the US pursued numerous highly controversial law enforcement and counter-terrorism policies. But with Mueller overseeing the investigation, I think that if anyone under scrutiny broke any laws they’re likely in pretty big trouble. For the purposes of this appointment, that’s what matters. I don’t think Mueller has any interest or willingness to cover for President Trump or any of his associates…

I still think Rosenstein deserves all the reputational damage he incurred over the last ten days or so. He knew what he was participating in when he involved himself in the Comey firing. What he probably didn’t realize was that Trump would essentially blame him for the decision. How much this is payback, an attempt to repair his reputation or simply put things right, you’re as good a judge as I am.

I believe this decision was close to inevitable. It is a major investigation, with a focus directly on the White House, with massive public interest. The President has already demonstrably tried to end the investigation. There’s simply no way that investigation can be credibly carried on by personnel serving at the pleasure of the President.

But here’s the key. This is important and necessary but not sufficient.

There also needs to be an independent commission to investigate what happened in the 2016 election. These two options – special counsel or independent commission – are often bandied about as two separate options, one or the other, or as steps of escalation in a scandal. None of those things is true.

Dana Milbank:

With the stroke of a pen, Rod Rosenstein redeemed his reputation, preserved the justice system, pulled American politics back from the brink — and, just possibly, saved the Republican Party and President Trump from themselves.

The deputy attorney general’s memo Wednesday night announcing that he had appointed Robert Mueller as special prosecutor to investigate the Trump administration’s ties to Russia was pitch perfect in its simple justification: While he has not determined that any crime has been committed, he wrote 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.”

This is precisely what Rosenstein needed to do for all parties, but particularly for his own honor. Rosenstein, just two weeks into the job, had trashed the reputation he had built over the years as a fair-minded and above-the-fray prosecutor by allowing Trump to use him as cover for Trump’s own decision to sack FBI Director James Comey. Many who admired Rosenstein were stunned that he would let himself be used this way; I argued last week that “if he cares at all about rehabilitating the reputation he built, Rosenstein has one option: He can appoint a serious, independent and above-reproach special counsel — the sort of person Rosenstein was seen as, until this week — to continue the Russia probe.” In tapping Mueller — a solid figure who served ably as FBI director under two presidents — that’s what Rosenstein did…

In this sense, Rosenstein also did a favor for congressional Republicans. A minority of GOP lawmakers had begun to see the urgency of putting country before party. House Government Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who is retiring, had directed the FBI to turn over documents. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and others have called for Comey to testify. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) invoked Watergate, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and several others joined calls for an independent commission or special prosecutor, and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said impeachment could be in order.



About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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