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FACTBOX-U.S. Justice Department's special counsel probe of Russia
May 18, 2017 / 7:46 PM / 5 months ago

FACTBOX-U.S. Justice Department's special counsel probe of Russia

    By Amanda Becker
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump's
dismissal of FBI Director James Comey has raised questions about
the future of the agency's probe into Russian attempts to sway
the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with
Trump's campaign.
    The Justice Department announced on May 17 that Deputy
Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had appointed former Federal
Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller as a special
counsel to lead an independent probe.
    Here is what to expect:
    * The FBI's investigation will continue. 
    Comey's firing did not end the FBI's investigation into
Moscow's role in the 2016 election. The career FBI staffers
Comey put in charge of the probe will likely continue it, legal
experts told Reuters, even as the White House interviews new
directors.
    
    * Probes underway in the U.S. Congress will also continue.  
  
    Investigations already underway in the Senate Intelligence
Committee and House Intelligence Committee and other panels will
progress.
    Congress could also create a special commission or appoint a
special master separate from the committee probes even after
Mueller's appointment, experts said.
    Senate Republicans, including some from leadership,
previously argued that the appointment of a special counsel
could imperil ongoing congressional probes.
    Mueller will not have the authority to demand Congress halt
a probe. Though criminal probes can at times complicate
congressional matters, legal experts said the complications
would be indistinguishable from those created by the already
ongoing FBI investigation.
    
    * Mueller will steer a parallel probe at the Justice
Department. 
    Mueller will interview relevant witnesses, subpoena
documents and, if the evidence merits, work with the FBI to
bring criminal charges related to the probe.
    
    *Mueller will operate with a high degree of independence
from the Trump administration.
    Rosenstein appointed Mueller to head the department's Russia
probe citing department regulations that allow attorney generals
to appoint a special counsel from outside the federal
government. 
    The department regulations are "not quite as robust" as a
law related to the appointment of a special prosecutor that
lapsed in the 1990s, according to Justin Levitt, a professor at
Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
    But "the regulations are designed to give the special
counsel a great degree of independence - decisions can be
overridden but if they are, to make sure that Congress knows
about them," Levitt said.
    Rosenstein appointed Mueller because Attorney General Jeff
Sessions had to recuse himself from involvement in
Russia-related probes because he had not told Congress about his
own contacts with Russian officials.
    
    *It would be difficult to fire Mueller from the job.
    Only the attorney general - or in this case Rosenstein, as
the acting attorney general in matters related to Russia - has
the authority to fire a special counsel.
    Justice Department regulations state that a special counsel
can only be removed "for cause," such as misconduct, conflict of
interest or dereliction of duty, Levitt said.
    Though Rosenstein, like Comey, serves at the pleasure of the
president and could be removed without cause at any time, Levitt
cautioned that doing so in order to jeopardize Mueller's probe
would come at a high political cost. "Each of those actions will
come with increasing public and congressional scrutiny," Levitt
said.

 (Additional reporting by Rick Cowan)

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