New special counsel Robert Mueller has the credibility necessary to conduct a full investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election, experts say, and definitively determine any complicity on Donald Trump‘s part.
“Sometimes it seems hard to find public officials who are respected and trusted by all sides,” said Ryan Hurl, instructor of political science at the University of Toronto.
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Mueller, one of the longest-serving FBI directors who served with distinction and without scandal, manages to fit into that category, Hurl said.
“He is really on a short list of people who could be trusted to be genuinely independent in these circumstances.”
Mueller was appointed FBI director in 2001, and led the bureau through the terror attacks of September 11 before retiring in 2012. On Wednesday evening it was announced he had been appointed as special counsel by the Justice Department, with the ability to initiate investigations, subpoena records and bring criminal charges.
In a statement following the announcement, Mueller said, “I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability.”
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The move comes after Trump fired FBI director James Comey, who had been leading the investigation. Reports have since emerged that in February, Trump had asked Comey to drop the investigation into his former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia.
Mueller’s appointment was “a very wise decision” by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Hurl said.
“I think that it’s almost surprising that a similar move wasn’t made earlier,” Hurl said.
It’s telling that the White House was only told about the appointment of the special counsel after the order was already signed, said Robert W. Murray, managing director for Dentons Canada.
“I absolutely think it’s pivotal for the legitimacy of the institutions of American government,” Murray said. “I think we’ve finally reached that point where, if the Justice Department hadn’t done anything, it would certainly pose more questions than anything else.”
Special counsels work independently and decide whether to inform the Justice Department of what they’re up to.
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“They certainly chose somebody who has both the adequate background and credibility and bipartisan support to be able to effectively conduct the investigation,” Murray said.
Mueller’s appointment could turn out to be a blessing for Trump, and finally put to bed the suspicion of his camp’s ties to Russia.
“If there is no evidence found on any of the claims that are being made and Mr. Trump and his campaign are completely exonerated, it would take somebody with Mr. Mueller’s credibility to be able to make that claim,” said Murray.
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Trump was — at first — happy with the news of Mueller’s appointment.
In a statement Wednesday, Trump said that “a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know — there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly.”
However, he quickly changed his tune, tweeting on Thursday morning that the ongoing investigation amounts to “the single greatest witch hunt” in U.S. history.
Trump would be best to avoid making any such remarks moving forward, said Murray.
“What we’ve been seeing on Twitter certainly does not lend itself to somebody who wants to see a process actually conducted … which is certainly not going to help his cause,” Murray said.
— With files from Jessica Vomiero and the Associated Press
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