Turn the special counsel loose

If history is any guide, a special counsel investigation aimed at rooting out issues relating to the president of the United States and his alleged ties to Russia well could develop a life of its own.

Robert Mueller has been given the task of finding out whether Donald John Trump’s presidential campaign was complicit in Russian government efforts to swing the 2016 presidential election. He’s also going to examine possible links between a former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, to the Russians. Moreover, he has latitude to look into whether the president obstructed justice by “asking” former FBI Director James Comey to shut down a probe of Flynn’s ties to Russia.

Could there be even more to learn, beyond the official tasks given to Mueller — himself a former FBI director?

Mueller’s the man

We have some historical precedent to ponder.

Kenneth Starr once held the title of “independent prosecutor.” His duty in the 1990s was to look at a real estate venture involving President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Republican critics in Congress thought there were some shady circumstances that needed to be examined. Starr began poking around and discovered some evidence of a relationship between President Clinton and a young 20-something White House intern.

A federal grand jury summoned the president to testify. The president took an oath to tell the whole truth to the grand jury — and then he lied about his relationship.

Ah-hah! GOP House members then cobbled together an impeachment proceeding that charged the president with perjury and obstruction of justice. The House impeached the president. The Senate held its trial and he was acquitted.

Will history repeat itself? I have no clue. My guess is that special counsel Mueller doesn’t yet know where his probe will lead.

These matters do have a way of growing legs. The statute gives Mueller considerable leeway in his pursuit of the truth. The president cannot fire him; he can, though, order the Justice Department to do so. Let’s hope that Donald Trump resists that impulse. I know that’s a tall order, given the self-proclaimed joy he gets when he fires people.

But the Justice Department’s deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, has picked a serious legal heavyweight to do some seriously heavy lifting.

It’s time now for Robert Mueller to get busy. Rapidly.

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