Matthew T. Mangino: A young presidency and a growing scandal
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Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that calls for a special counsel would only be counterproductive to the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
"Partisan calls should not delay the considerable work” of the ranking members of the Intelligence Committee, McConnell told reporters. "Too much is at stake.”
On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced the appointment of former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller to serve as Special Counsel to oversee the investigation of Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election and related matters.
McConnell, with what seems a change of heart, said the appointment of the special counsel "confirms that the investigation into Russian intervention into our election will continue.”
“In my capacity as acting Attorney General, I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a Special Counsel to assume responsibility for this matter,” said Rosenstein.
He continued, “Our nation is grounded on the rule of law, and the public must be assured that government officials administer the law fairly.”
Mueller is a widely respected lawyer and public servant. He was appointed to head the FBI by Republican President George W. Bush and continued in that capacity under Democratic President Barack Obama. His 10-year term was extended by 2 years, and he finally retired in September 2013 -- making him the second-longest-serving FBI director behind only, J. Edgar Hoover.
Federal law provides that “The Attorney General, or in cases in which the Attorney General is recused, the Acting Attorney General, will appoint a Special Counsel when he or she determines that criminal investigation of a person or matter is warranted.”
The investigation’s focus will be whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign and whether the Trump administration had improper contact with the Russian government.
The investigation may also involve whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice.
President Trump fired James B. Comey, who as director of the FBI, was overseeing an investigation of Trump’s administration and campaign, right after Comey reportedly asked for more money and agents for the investigation.
Trump suggested during an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt that he was thinking about the “fake” (as he refers to it) Russia investigation when he fired Comey. However, Trump said at the time of Comey’s firing that the reason behind it was the mistreatment of Hillary Clinton during the FBI’s email investigation -- the same investigation that Trump rallied behind during his campaign.
The New York Times reported that President Trump asked Comey in January to pledge loyalty to him and that Comey refused to do so. According to sources, the former director pledged honesty and independence.
This week we learned that President Trump allegedly asked Comey, in February, to drop the investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. Comey apparently has notes memorializing the meeting.
There is no clear legal answer whether a sitting president can be indicted and prosecuted. The Attorney General’s Office in 1973 -- during the Watergate scandal -- and again in 2000 -- in the wake of the Clinton impeachment -- determined that the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting president was impermissible and unconstitutional because it would undermine the executive branch’s ability to perform its constitutionally assigned functions, wrote Robert Anello a contributor to Forbes.
Instead, the decision to terminate the service of a president “is more fittingly handled by Congress than by a jury, and such congressional power is founded in the Constitution” through impeachment.
Whatever direction this investigation leads -- one thing is certain, Robert Mueller will be busy sorting out the sordid details of Trump’s brief presidency.
-- Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.