Robert Mueller to Head Russia-Trump Probe: First Thoughts

On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that Robert Mueller, a former director of the F.B.I., had been appointed special prosecutor to oversee the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election. The appointment follows the uproar caused last week by President Trump’s sudden dismal of the F.B.I. director, James Comey. Below, New Yorker writers offer some initial reactions to the news.

Rod Rosenstein’s decision is an important indication of the shifting mood in Washington: his appointment of Robert Mueller was an act of self-protection. A career prosecutor who was criticized for lending his voice to the firing of the former F.B.I. director James Comey, Rosenstein has chosen to hand off the Russia investigation, rejecting Republican leaders’ repeated statements that such a move was unnecessary, that he should soldier on amid criticisms of his independence. This is the move of a man who does not see his fate as strictly aligned with the President’s. The question facing Republicans in Congress and others throughout the executive branch is: How many are reaching the same conclusion?

Mueller has been handed what must be described as one of the most consequential jobs in American history, and his work could take months or years to complete. But—as I’ve written—investigations beget investigations. By reputation, Mueller is a meticulous investigator and fact-finder. He inspires bipartisan political support, and has abundant experience with pressure. President Trump just lost a lever with which to shape his own future.

—Evan Osnos

One short anecdote illustrates why Robert Mueller has a sterling reputation as a defender of the rule of law, and why he may be exactly the person the country needs in this tumultuous moment. Back in the first days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, there was such white-hot hatred for the perpetrators and suspected terrorists that it spilled over to their American defense lawyers. In those days, even the American Civil Liberties Union backed away from providing legal defense for the detainees at Guantánamo, for fear of the political and public-relations fallout that would ensue. The few lawyers who dared represent these individuals were treated as lepers. At one Washington dinner party, as I report in my book “The Dark Side,” the issue caused guests to turn on Thomas Wilner, a well-heeled corporate law partner who had stepped forward to defend a Guantánamo detainee. According to Wilner, Tom Green, a prominent criminal-defense lawyer at the table, asked him how he could possibly justify representing such a client. Amid the chilly silence that followed, according to Wilner’s account, another guest stood up. It was Mueller, then the F.B.I. director, who raised a glass and said, “I…

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