History will one day tell the story of how the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump, just over 100 days into his presidency, fired the director of the FBI, James Comey, in an apparent attempt to stop an investigation into the president’s own team of advisers. The firing set off alarm bells, and will for decades to come look like the behavior of a man on the run, obstructing justice. Adding fuel to the fire, leading figures in his administration immediately dismissed the idea of appointing a special counsel to investigate the matter and hemmed and hawed about a congressional investigation as well. For several days, it seemed possible that an unstoppable series of events would clamp down the investigation, and in so doing, tamp down a central tenet of American democracy—the balance of powers.
But today, a week after Director Comey’s firing, it seems we have the beginning of a possible redirection of the story. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the chief official in charge of the DOJ’s investigation, appointed a special counsel to “ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.”
It is not just the appointment of a special counsel that is cause for relief but the specific choice of Robert Mueller. In many ways, Mueller is as good a person to occupy this post as any we could hope for. By temperament and by experience, Mueller hints at the possibility of an antidote to the Trump administration’s defiant stance against the laws of the land.
Here are four reasons why:
1) Mueller is an intrepid professional. Famously, he required FBI agents and officials to wear white button-down shirts, to signify their commitment to maintaining professional standards. In the context of the Trump administration, which consistently downplays professional skill in favor of loyalty, Mueller’s credentials are impeccable. A federal prosecutor for many years, head of the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice, he handled cases involving organized crime, foreign countries, and terrorism. As head of the FBI, he led the country through the 9/11 investigation. No one could ever say he was naive about foreign threats, including Russia. Mueller also has a deep understanding of the structure and personnel in today’s Justice Department, including the semi-independent FBI. Dozens of the lawyers and agents who now hold positions that will prove instrumental to his investigation are comfortable with him and have worked with him in the past. He can call on others who are now out of government as well but who may decide to help him, as one former chief of staff now in private practice has already done.
2) Mueller has had a notably bipartisan career, which will likely help him get the resources and cooperation he needs. President Bush confidently appointed him to the longest political appointment in the government—10 years—and President Obama, who inherited him, chose to keep him in the post an extra two. As a result, Mueller has deep, working ties with the Republicans and Democrats in Congress, before whom he testified in the course of those 12 years. Even as head of the FBI, he was keen on forging ties with civil libertarians, agreeing to address the ACLU’s annual meeting in 2003.