In His 9 Months On The Job, Special Counsel Robert Mueller Has Charged 19 People

Mar 1, 2018
Originally published on March 2, 2018 10:21 am
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Special counsel Robert Mueller has led the legal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election for nine months now. In that time, he's charged 19 people with wrongdoing and one guilty pleas from the president's former deputy campaign manager and his national security adviser. NPR's Carrie Johnson has been comparing the Mueller investigation to similar ones in the past. Here's what she found.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: There's a small group of scholars who focus on politically charged investigations that may lead into the White House. Ken Gormley, the president of Duquesne University, is one of them.

KEN GORMLEY: The whole point of appointing an independent counsel is to deal with the fact that there is a cloud over the highest levels of the executive branch and to restore public confidence one way or the other.

JOHNSON: That means moving forward quietly with no leaks and quickly to prove guilt or innocence and lift that cloud. The model prosecutor, Gormley says, was this guy.

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ARCHIBALD COX: I'm not looking for a confrontation. I've worried a good deal through my life about the problems of imposing too much strain upon our constitutional institutions. And I'm certainly not out to get the president of the United States.

JOHNSON: That's Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Cox was fired in 1973 after a little more than a year. But during that time, he developed evidence about obstruction of justice by President Richard Nixon. The prosecutor who replaced Cox built on that work, ultimately leading to Nixon's resignation. Gormley says the current special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, is operating in that same mold.

GORMLEY: Robert Mueller's pace in this investigation is very similar to that of some of the best special prosecutors in modern history.

JOHNSON: But at the White House, President Trump and his lawyers have been pressing the Mueller team to move even faster. So is another familiar figure - former Whitewater independent counsel Ken Starr. Here's Starr speaking to CNN this week.

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KEN STARR: The American people I think want to know; was there collusion? Let's get that answer.

JOHNSON: Starr of course spent five years and more than $40 million investigating President Bill Clinton. Critics say Starr took too long and wandered away from his original mission. Ken Gormley wrote a book about the Starr probe. He explains.

GORMLEY: Some accused some special counsel, like Ken Starr, for instance, of being like roving Frankenstein monsters. There was just no end to their investigations.

JOHNSON: In the category of no end, there was the investigation of Clinton's secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Henry Cisneros, who drew a lot of media attention.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Attorney General Janet Reno asked for an independent counsel to determine whether he should be prosecuted for providing false information about payments to an ex-mistress.

JOHNSON: Cisneros spoke with reporters in 1995 after the probe launched.

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HENRY CISNEROS: I'm disappointed by that outcome, but I'm hopeful that the investigation will be completed expeditiously.

JOHNSON: Any hope Cisneros had for a speedy resolution went bust. The independent counsel in his case, David Barrett, kept working even after the law authorizing his work expired. Cisneros pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and was later pardoned by the president. The final report emerged in 2006, nearly 11 years after he took office.

Now, Robert Mueller is a hard-driving former FBI director not known for dallying in his work. He's already secured indictments against Russians for running an information warfare campaign aimed at the presidential election. Katy Harriger studies special prosecutors at Wake Forest University. She says measuring Mueller's success will be a challenge.

KATY HARRIGER: For some people, success will only be if somehow the president gets impeached (laughter). And for other people, success is a sort of complete exoneration.

JOHNSON: Push away that cloud of politics, she says, and success may be a report or a set of conclusions that most people can believe. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.