"Who is Robert Mueller?
He is the rare Washington figure who is revered by both Republicans and Democrats. He was a top U.S. attorney in San Francisco and Boston and was appointed in 2001 by President George W. Bush to serve a 10-year term as FBI director. He served 12 years because President Obama asked him to stay on and Congress approved.
“Bob Mueller is a nearly perfect choice for this job,” said Washington lawyer Walter Dellinger. “He is a straight-down-the-middle guy, and that’s exactly what you want in this circumstance.”
How will he conduct the investigation?
He will begin with the work already underway with the FBI investigators who have been looking into the activities of Michael Flynn, the retired general who joined the Trump campaign and was fired after serving briefly as the president’s national security advisor. But under the appointment order, Mueller would have the authority to investigate widely, including the White House.
What are the pros and cons of using a special counsel?
The advantages are that the American people can be confident that the investigation is being run independently of the Trump administration. Political appointees will not be in a position to tell the special counsel to steer clear of certain matters and certain people.
One disadvantage from the public’s viewpoint is that the investigation is likely to go behind closed doors, perhaps for months or even years. Federal prosecutors want to gather evidence and, when warranted, bring it before a grand jury that meets in secret. While special counsels can decide whether criminal charges should be brought against a particular person, it is not clear that the use of a special counsel investigation is the best way to examine potential political wrongdoing.
Will his inquiry conflict with the congressional investigations?
That is not clear, but there may be a conflict. In the Iran-Contra affair in the late 1980s, congressional committees wanted to examine the Reagan White House and its secret arrangements with Iranian arms dealers and Contra rebels in Central America. At the same time, Lawrence Walsh, the appointed independent counsel, was building criminal cases against several White House aides, including Col. Oliver North.
While Congress wanted to hear public testimony from North, the independent counsel feared that forcing North to testify under immunity would ruin his case. His fears proved to be right, when convictions against North and others were thrown out.
What if Mueller finds evidence of criminal wrongdoing?
He can seek an indictment before the grand jury and prosecute the case in federal court. But it is not clear he could bring a criminal charge against the president himself. The Justice Department has taken the position in the past that if the president is involved in criminal wrongdoing, the evidence should be presented to the House of Representatives as grounds for impeachment.
Can he be fired?
Yes. He will serve under the authority of Rosenstein, the acting attorney general, who could decide to discharge him for some specific wrongdoing. Ultimately, the president as the chief executive could in theory order the firing of the special prosecutor. But as in Nixon’s experience, the political cost to the president would be enormous, and would probably end in his removal from office."