What is a special prosecutor and why is one assigned to President Trump?

After President Donald Trump’s recent abrupt firing of  FBI Director James Comey and his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia, former FBI director Robert Mueller was assigned to investigate Trump and his campaign’s ties to Russia.

What is a Special Prosecutor?

A special prosecutor is someone appointed by the the Justice Department to investigate a legal case “where there is a conflict of interest.” They are considered the first step when a president (or other officials) are purportedly involved in illegal activities.

According to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate Trump’s alleged coordination with Russia in order to allow Americans “faith in impartiality.” Special prosecutors must be independent and impartial to the ongoing investigation, and not affiliated in any way with the party being investigated.

“The public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command.”

Rosenstein is overseeing the investigation after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself. Generally, the Attorney General appoints a special prosecutor, unless he removes himself from the situation. In that case, the Deputy Attorney General steps in.

Why was Trump assigned a Special Prosecutor?

The special prosecutor is investigating what role, if any, Russia played in influencing the 2016 election and alleged ties between President Trump’s associates and Russian officials. President Trump insists that there was no “collusion’’ with Russia, but regardless, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said that a special prosecutor is the necessary first step in the investigation.

A special prosecutor is the first step, but it cannot be the last. He cannot take the place of a truly independent, outside commission that is completely free from the Trump administration’s meddling.

What Other Presidents were Assigned a Special Prosecutor?

Special prosecutors date back to 1875 when the Whiskey Ring scandal was investigated. However, it was the Watergate scandals in the 1970s that prompted officials to appoint an independent person as special prosecutor. In 1973, Former Solicitor General Archibald Cox served as a special prosecutor during the Nixon administration to investigate Watergate.

In 1998, Bill Clinton’s administration underwent seven separate investigations. In 2003, veteran prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was assigned to investigate a leak that exposed a CIA agent during the George W. Bush administration. President’s George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan also had their administrations investigated during the Iran-Contra affair.

Trump’s Response

President Trump didn’t take kindly to being investigated, calling himself the “victim of a witch hunt.” In a press release on May 17, Trump indicated that he welcomes a thorough investigation, but hopes it will end quickly. He concluded by saying the results would show he had absolutely “no collision” between his campaign and “any foreign entity.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, the special investigation could take anywhere from months to years.

[Feature Photo: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais]