WASHINGTON — Although members of Congress from both sides of the aisle welcomed the Justice Department’s appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s influence in the 2016 election, some Republicans are warning of the possible political dangers the administration just put itself into.
“I think it was a mistake. There’s supposed to be an ongoing criminal investigation and from what we’ve been hearing, there was no evidence of actual collusion and nothing substantive, and yet a special counsel got appointed. So, I didn’t see that this was a time [to have a special counsel],” Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, told The Daily Caller.
Gohmert also criticized Assistant Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s special counsel appointment of Robert Mueller.
“Mueller has consistently shown very poor judgment and I’m concerned that’s what he’ll do again,” Gohmert said.
He went on to say, “I thought of Scooter Libby. That Mueller and his minions — the yes people who will gather around him like they did at the FBI, they’ll be wanting some scalp to put up, whatever it was, even if they have to get more jurisdiction just to find some way to get somebody’s scalp to hang up.”
In October 2005, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who was appointed by the Bush Justice Department to investigate the Valerie Plame CIA leak affair, indicted Lewis “Scooter” Libby former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.
A jury later convicted him and Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison, fined $250,000, and lost his law license. President George W. Bush commuted Libby’s sentence as opposed to giving him a pardon. It was later revealed that State Department employee Richard Armitage was the leak behind the whole Valerie Plame controversy. Fitzgerald never charged Armitage for his involvement in the case.
When asked by TheDC if there was concern that a fishing expedition could happen with Mueller as critics said happened with Fitzgerald, California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, Judiciary Committee member, replied:
“In committee today, I actually defined that. I said these are the things we should understand including his interpretation of the breadth of his investigation. There was conjecture in committee. ‘Can he investigate this? Can’t he investigate this with his current authority? And the Senate has already spoken to the Deputy Attorney General who undoubtedly answered similar questions. I wasn’t there, but those are fair questions.”
“A special prosecutor commissioned, if you will, by the deputy attorney general in this case, can’t automatically expand. He has to come back and say, ‘This is what I was told. Now this is additional that I’d like to be able to do.’ And, like any investigation, if he sees things and comes back credibly asking to add to his portfolio of course that’s a reasonable request,” Issa added.
“It was a counterintelligence investigation before now. It seems to me now to be considered a criminal investigation,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters Thursday after meeting with Rosentein.
“What does that mean for the Congress? I find it hard to subpoena records of somebody like Flynn who may be subject to a criminal investigation because he has a right not to incriminate himself,” Graham said. “As to Comey, the former director of the FBI coming before the committee, if I were Mueller I would jealously guard the witness pool.”
Josh Blackman, an Associate Professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, told TheDC that a special counsel can do his work for as long as he wants.
“The letter sent out yesterday basically gave Mueller unlimited discretion as to what he can and can’t do,” Blackman said. “If he’s specifically…investigating obstruction of justice violations, that means that anyone on the Trump campaign is now being subpoenaed and being asked, perhaps, to give testimony to the special counsel.”
Blackman also stated, “Once appointed the special counsel has extremely broad autonomy to investigate as he sees fits. Under the relevant regulations he can only be fired for doing something improper. Once appointed he will keep investigating till he decides to stop.”