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What is an Independent Special Counsel?

by Countable | 5.17.17

Several times in the past half-century, Congress has designated officials to serve as "independent counsel," "special counsel" or "independent special prosecutor" in congressional investigations.

These attorneys are appointed to investigate governmental matters that could present a conflict of interest for staff lawyers, and are tasked with acting independently of the agencies or departments they look in to.

A designated Independent Counsel or Special Prosecutor has the power of any U.S. attorney, enabling them to convene a grand jury or see documents necessary to the fact-finding phase of an investigation, as well as the power to issue subpoenas.

The position also carries significant autonomy, and while they report to the Justice Department, they can appeal any DOJ decision to the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.

In the last several decades, lawmakers have brought in special counsel in three separate investigations involving the president and the executive branch of government:

  • The Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration brought the appointment of Lawrence Walsh as Independent Counsel.

  • President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky and the Whitewater Controversy investigations were started by Robert Fiske, and continued by Kenneth Starr as Independent Counsel. Starr's investigation lead to the House of Representatives Impeachment of President Clinton, though he was later acquitted by the Senate.

  • The Valerie Plame affair during George W. Bush's administration brought about the appointment of Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was appointed by then-Acting Attorney General James Comey who took the charge after Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from the investigation.

Do you think the investigation into President Trump's ties with Russia merit an independent special prosecutor? Tell your reps what you think!

— Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: WikiMedia Commons / Public Domain)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(105)
  • Vanessa
    05/18/2017
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    Randi, we can't ignore the facts! We need to stop thinking like democrats or republicans, liberals or conservative. Whatever happened, if Trumps was colluding with Russia or if he isn't, which he might be, we need the truth. Why not have an independent commission to replace the investigations led by those on the Hill. What do you or I have to loose? Especially by someone who's non-partisan.

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  • JaredThePoet
    05/18/2017
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    Finally. This shouldn't have taken this long, and I fear it is far from over. In the meantime, while this investigation is underway, Trump will continue to dismantle American democracy and dignity while he visits the Middle East. Republicans in congress dropped the ball on this one, majorly. The fact that all the Republicans didn't want an independent prosecutor speaks volumes, they'd rather see their party and their agendas get passed by any means necessary rather than call out the president on his harmful decision-making and poor judgment. Disgusting.

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  • riseabovethestorm
    05/18/2017
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    For those of you who believe Trump doesn't need to be investigated are delusional! This president needs to be investigated for the simple reason he has not been transparent about anything! He could of ended it himself If he just allowed the process to happened without ANY interference. 45 should be worried. These are not Obama days nor the Clinton days... those days are over. Lets be clear, there is no comparison to what this current president is being accused of. He is by far the WORST president. I am hoping for IMPEACHEMENT !!

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  • Crystal
    05/18/2017
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    Good, this is needed, finally!

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  • Adrienne44139
    05/18/2017
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    The threads of this investigation are so tangled, a special prosecutor is necessary just to pull them apart. Then they can be investigated and laid out for all to see.

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  • Kairi
    05/18/2017
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    He needs to be suspended during the investigation because who knows what kind of revenge he will take on the ppl.

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  • Wesley
    05/18/2017
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    Thank you for appointing the Independent investigator on this matter. Party politics are ruining the integrity of our democracy. This administration's constant interference in this investigation is only exacerbating the situation. We asked that there be a thorough investigation with those found in the obstruction of justice be brought to light.

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  • Jeanine
    05/18/2017
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    I am very happy to see that DOJ has brought in independent counsel, however, I am extremely concerned that this counsel worked for a law firm that has ties with the Trump and Kushner families as well as Paul Manafort. We need an independent counsel that is truly independent, with absolutely no ties to The White House.

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  • Lbugg
    05/18/2017
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    I am in support of having a special counsel. This needs to be done to insure a thorough and fair investigation.

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  • Forrest
    05/18/2017
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    Finally! Perhaps there are some grown ups in Washington. It was looking doubtful. It's time now for elected officials to begin putting country before party.

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  • Joelle
    05/18/2017
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    About time...

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  • Benjamin
    05/18/2017
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    We absolutely need an independent investigation of 45 and the entire administration. There is no way that the other officials didn't know what 45 does about Russia or that they weren't also involved on some level. Until there is 100% transparency and proof nothing happened, I am convinced there was collusion with Russian officials, that 45 had business with them and still does, a violation of the Constitution. He must reveal his tax returns and he must be investigated by a neutral and independent party who cannot be influenced. 45 has fired and blocked anyone who has tried to get the truth. He has trashed the media and insulted people. He has continually acted inappropriately for his level of office and does not know how to act with discretion or decorum in the face of adversity. He and his administration has no respect for the principles and laws of the country he governs. If nothing else, he should be removed before he hurts us by starting an international war. Please support this investigation and remember what you do now will be under scrutiny in 2018.

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  • Jennifer
    05/18/2017
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    Definitely needed! What matters here is the truth. Plain and simple. Getting an outcome I would want, because of party affiliation, does not the truth make.

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  • Sarah
    05/18/2017
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    I think an independent special counsel must be called to investigate Russia's interference in US elections and the Trump administration's ties to Russia overall.

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  • Jan
    05/18/2017
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    An independent prosecutor is a good choice. Mueller is a good choice.

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  • Aaron
    05/18/2017
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    Fair for the goose, fair for gander, all the crying liberals want to chase anything to stir up Trump rather than move forward, so fine run the chase with this independent counsel, but then let's do an investigation into Clintons, Obama, find out who called off murder investigation of her staffer who is most likely the Wikileaks's informer!!

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  • Anita
    05/18/2017
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    Yes the American public needs to know the truth about our government or we will lose all confidence in our leaders.

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  • Clint
    05/18/2017
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    Looks like Paul Ryan will need one soon to. Strap in boys.

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  • UPracer
    05/18/2017
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    What's the end game here? Impeach Trump...then what? Pence? And that would be better? The WHOLE swamp is infected, and it goes deeper than most people realize. There seems to be an endless line of batshit crazy idiots who want power. Who do we blame? Look in the mirror. Yes, we as a citizenry have been asleep for FAR too long. We let our citizen oversight get usurped long ago...now it's almost too late. I see a major revolution coming...but we're not there yet. (This is a totally nonpartisan comment by the way)

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  • Joe
    05/18/2017
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    IMPORTANT: The method of appointment mirrors most closely the appointment of Special Counsel in the Valerie Plame case, as DAG Rosenstein appointed Mueller using his statutory authority as opposed to relying on the Code of Federal Regulations to make the appointment. Mueller is not like Ken Starr, who was actually head of the Office of Independent Counsel and was appointed by a 3-judge panel and answerable to Congress.

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