Mueller mania

Why the former FBI director is now a hot topic

In the aftermath of the tumultuous 2016 election, it was discovered that Russian agents made efforts to subvert and influence the election process in the U.S through a variety of different measures.

The man at the center of this rapidly evolving investigation is Robert Mueller, former director of the FBI and current special counsel. Appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Mueller has been tasked with investigating “any links and/or coordination between Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

Mueller’s investigation discovered that many staff members of the Trump campaign were in contact with Russians during the election, providing reason to believe there may have been  collusion between the campaign and the Russian government to help Trump win. The term “collusion” is thrown around so often today; however, that it is important to take a critical look and understand what is actually being discussed.

As explained by Jeffrey Toobin, legal analyst for CNN and author of an untitled book on the Mueller investigation, “there’s no such crime as collusion, but there is a crime called conspiracy. But it has to be a conspiracy to violate some law on the books.”

Although Trump vehemently denies allegations, there are ways in which the Trump campaign and the Russians could have “colluded” together, which  could have been legal.  However, if the collusion was in regards to the many direct, illegal efforts the Russian government took to sabotage the election – such as the hacking of Democratic Party officials – then it would without a doubt have been illegal.

While this investigation has already confirmed that somein President Trump’s campaign and administration – such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn and ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort had contact with Russian government officials – the charges leveled against these two were in relation to obstructing justice or other violations of the law, not collusion.

Critics of the administration argue that this special investigation does not operate independently enough, since the Justice Department under Rosenstein could remove Mueller at any time, at will – although this is also something President Trump has denied he would pursue.

This is even more serious when considered in light of recent revelations last week President Trump actually did declare, in private, his desire to fire Mueller, to the objection of those advising him. The president backed down only after the head legal counsel for the White House declared he would resign if this action was taken.

It is important that we not blend these revelations with accusations of collusion or obstruction of justice into the same argument.  While not many will defend an attempt on the administration’s part to fire Mueller for political reasons, and many would declare it entirely unethical the legality of the situation is much more complicated.

There are actually, as a matter of fact, many ways in which Robert Mueller could be legally removed as special prosecutor.  This would almost certainly do more damage than anything the special prosecutor could do in the short-term, as President Nixon and his administration discovered in what was deemed as the “Saturday Night Massacre” which ultimately led to articles of impeachment being filed against him.

For this reason, it doesn’t seem likely President Trump will actually follow-through with firing Mueller, but as with everything in this administration, anything is possible. It is due to this lack of follow through, as well as the recent revelations confirming Trump’s opinion on the matter, that steps should be taken to protect this investigation.

While there have been several ideas floated to maintain the integrity of this investigation at hand – such as a commission-style approach similar to what was used in the 9/11 investigation – the one thing that is clear is that this is not an issue that will recede on its own, and should be planned for accordingly.

A framework needs to be established for both the investigation at hand, as well as any possible future investigations, in order to maintain the integrity and independence of our justice system, even when it is investigating those in the highest levels of power. 

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Josh Bostrom

Josh Bostrom

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