Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed the first charges in the investigation of Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election, on Oct. 30 according to the New York Times. The charges were brought against Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Rick Gates, a campaign advisor, and George Papadopoulos, a former policy advisor.
Manafort and Gates were both indicted with money laundering in overseas shell companies. Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and was cooperating with the FBI, according to the New York Times.
Mueller was appointed as special counsel on May 17 by the Department of Justice, according to a release by the DOJ.
“What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, 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,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in the statement.
A special counsel was last appointed in 2003 during the Bush administration to investigate the leaking of the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame, known as the Plame Affair, according to the Washington Post. There were also notable cases of special prosecutors being appointed for Watergate during the Nixon administration and Whitewater during the Clinton administration, according to PBS.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee responded to the indictments in a press briefing with an affirmation that these charges have nothing to do with the president or the campaign.
“We’ve been saying from the beginning that there’s no Trump-Russia collusion and nothing in the indictment changed that,” Huckabee said.
However, while the indictment may not explicitly be related to possible Russian collusion, it may be a strategy of the investigation to get more information, according to Dr. Rosco Williamson, PLNU Assistant Professor of Political Science.
“What they’re really trying to do is get leverage so they can say ‘look, we’ll take 15 years off your sentence if you tell us what really happened with President Trump.’ Right now, there’s no incentive to say if anything happened,” Williamson said.
The motivation behind encouraging the investigation to take place may not be purely justice-based, but also political-based, according to Williamson.
“Clearly they [the left] would not have pushed that hard if Hillary Clinton had won. But then people on the right would’ve pushed for it,” Williamson said. “There’s going to be a whole group of people who want to set up a special prosecutor just to make it harder for President Trump to do anything.”
Should the investigation turn up nothing, there may still be remaining controversy and doubt that could continue to impede Trump’s presidency, according to Williamson.
“Even if they find nothing else out, you’re going to have a whole bunch of people who don’t believe it,” Williamson said.
According to Williamson, if the investigation does find evidence against Trump, it will be turned over to Congress for an impeachment trial. However, it will be some time before that takes place.
“Even if someone comes forward and says that Trump did it, then someone else will come along and say, ‘well, they just said that to cut a deal,’” Williamson said. “So you need a few of those people to come forward. Even if there is something to find in there, it’s a long ways away from finding it.”