Special counsel takes over probe of Russian activities

For a brief time it seemed that President Donald J. Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey had derailed the agency’s investigation into Russian interference in last year’s presidential election. But now, with the appointment of the highly regarded former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the probe, fair-minded Americans desiring the unvarnished truth have reason for optimism.

It is most noteworthy that neither the president nor any member of his White House staff had a say in Mueller’s selection by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Indeed, the White House was informed late Wednesday afternoon after Rosenstein signed the letter of appointment that gives the special counsel sweeping powers to investigate Russia’s undermining of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, thereby benefiting Republican Trump’s bid.

Rosenstein is overseeing the FBI’s investigation because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself due to his own undisclosed Russian contacts during the campaign.

Indeed, Trump’s firing of Comey has added a new and significant layer to the investigation because of the specter of obstruction of justice.

The New York Times reported Tuesday the president asked Comey to drop an investigation of his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

The request was made during a meeting the then FBI director had with Trump in the White House a day after Flynn resigned. The retired general was found to have lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of phone conversations he had had with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump told Comey, according to a written record of the meeting kept by the FBI director. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let it go.”

No response

Comey’s memo, the contents of which were quoted by the Times, shows he did not respond to the president other than to agree that Flynn was “a good guy.”

On Wednesday, the newspaper reported Flynn told Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign.

“Despite this warning, which came about a month after the Justice Department notified Mr. Flynn of the inquiry, Mr. Trump made Mr. Flynn his national security adviser,” the Times reported. “The job gave Mr. Flynn access to the president and nearly every secret held by American intelligence agencies.”

On Tuesday, the president welcomed Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to the White House and hailed America’s ties with that Middle Eastern nation.

“We’ve had a great relationship, and we will make it even better,” Trump said, while ignoring the crackdown by the Turkish government of dissenters and other perceived enemies of the government.

Against the many backdrops that have fed suspicions about the activities of some Trump associates, Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation takes on singular importance.

The mandate he received from the Justice Department extends beyond any specific Trump-Russia connection to cover “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

On Thursday morning, President Trump tweeted the FBI probe and those being conducted by House and Senate committees are nothing more than a “witch hunt.”

If that is so, he should have no qualms about letting the investigators do their jobs without any pressure – political or otherwise – from the White House or Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill.

Mueller, a former federal prosecutor who served under presidential administrations of both parties, became FBI director just days before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on American soil.

He led the agency’s terror-fighting efforts over the next decade and was asked by President Barack to stay on after the 10-year term to which he was appointed by President George W. Bush came to an end.

Mueller left the agency with glowing reviews for his honesty and forthrightness, which is why his appointment as special counsel is a step in the right direction.

He must be given free rein.

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