Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was named Wednesday as special counsel to manage the investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Mueller, who previously served as chief of the FBI from 2001 to 2013, was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, using a regulation that gives the attorney general authority to designate a special counsel. It has been used only once before in the investigation of the 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, that left 76 dead.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier recused himself from any participation in the Russia investigation due to his role as a campaign adviser and surrogate for Trump.
“If the special counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the special counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters,” according to the Justice Department order.
Mueller’s appointment follows months of primarily Democrat allegations of Russian meddling and possible Trump campaign collusion in the election. The firing of former FBI Director James Comey and release of a Comey memo stating that President Trump expressed hope the investigation into former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, could be dropped, finally tipped the scale.
“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.”
While Mueller as special counsel will have greater independence to carry out the investigation than a U.S. attorney would, he remains answerable to Rosenstein. He will be able to make his own determination as to what information to reveal to the Justice Department as the investigation moves forward.