A steady stream of disturbing reports concerning adolescent — if not potentially criminal — conduct within the White House was interrupted by news that there will soon be an adult in the room. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller III has been appointed special counsel to investigate possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Our response to this announcement, made Wednesday by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with little advance warning to President Donald Trump, was a sigh of relief. It gives hope that the efforts by Moscow to influence the outcome of the November election with possible assistance from Trump associates will finally be treated with the seriousness that it deserves — and will be thoroughly vetted.
That confidence rests largely with the credibility of Mueller, an experienced litigator, former U.S. attorney for Northern California and former head of the FBI whose credentials are unimpeachable. Given his background having served under Republican President George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama, Mueller is probably the one individual who could generate the kind of bipartisan trust in Washington that this process demands.
The need for a thorough investigation has been evident for some time but became more urgent this past week in the wake of Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, reports that the president may have attempted to pressure Comey to halt the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and news that Trump passed along intelligence secrets to Russian leaders during an Oval Office visit last week. This investigation should encompass all of it. In addition, we trust Mueller will find a way to coordinate with investigations already underway by the House and Senate intelligence committees to ensure those will proceed as well.
The public deserves to know whether there was cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russian efforts to influence the election. More than that, the nation also should find out why Trump was so committed to having Flynn as national security adviser that, as reported by the New York Times, he dismissed warnings that Flynn was under federal investigation for keeping secret his work as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign. Moreover, why was Trump so preoccupied with the FBI investigation of Flynn’s Moscow connections that he risked charges of obstruction of justice by reportedly pressing Comey to drop the case — even after Flynn had been fired?
While there’s now hope that these questions will be addressed, it’s unlikely that the answers will be coming soon. Mueller will need time to assemble his team and begin the investigation, which will be starting from scratch and may take many months.
It’s also possible that, in the end, some of these answers may not be made public. The role of the special counsel is to look for evidence of possible criminal conduct and decide whether to seek indictments. There’s no guarantee at this point that Mueller will file a public report of what he finds, although we’re confident that, given the high stakes involved of potential influence on a national election, Mueller understands the need for some kind of public disclosure.
The public can at least have confidence that, for all practical purposes, this investigation is now outside the control of the White House and the influence of Republican leaders in Congress — who have shown a remarkable indifference to Russia’s cozy new role in American politics and this administration — and is in good hands.