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Robert Mueller May Not Be The Savior The Anti-Trump Internet Is Hoping For

Special counsel Robert Mueller departs after briefing the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill on June 20.
Aaron Bernstein
Special counsel Robert Mueller departs after briefing the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill on June 20.

A lot of people are counting on special counsel Robert Mueller.

Ana Navarro, a Republican and frequent critic of Trump on cable news outlets, beseeched him on Twitter to "hurry the hell up!" and get to the bottom of any connections between the Trump campaign and Russians. The satirical website the Onion said he's gorging on chicken nuggets to "get into the mind" of President Trump. And T-shirts bearing the logo "It's Mueller Time" are on sale at Amazon and Etsy.

But the online community that's fervently depending on the 73-year-old former FBI director to shake up the Trump presidency may be in for its share of disappointment.

The special counsel and his team of 16 lawyers are working under a fairly broad mandate from the Justice Department. Their task: to uncover any links and/or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, and to examine any other matters that might arise because of that investigation.

"Bob Mueller understands and I understand the specific scope of the investigation and so, it's not a fishing expedition," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told Fox News Sunday earlier this month.

Three months into the job, however, it's not clear what, if anything, investigators may uncover about the president, who has repeatedly denied any improper contacts with people in Russia and has called the special counsel probe "a witch hunt."

"They're investigating something that never happened," Trump told reporters last week. "There was no collusion between us and Russia. In fact, the opposite. Russia spent a lot of money on fighting me."

Moreover, even if authorities uncover damaging information about Trump or anyone else in the White House, there are serious questions about whether that material will ever be made public, short of an indictment or impeachment.

Regulations governing the special counsel say that at the conclusion of his work, he "shall provide the Attorney General with a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions." Then, it's up to the attorney general to determine whether releasing some information would be in the public interest. (Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the Russia investigation because of his association with the Trump campaign; Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein is overseeing the investigation.)

Another complicating factor: Mueller is using grand juries in Alexandria, Va., and Washington, D.C., and grand jury information is rarely made public.

"It is going to be hard and frustrating to get this information out," said Peter Zeidenberg, a lawyer at the Arent Fox firm who worked on the special counsel team investigating the leak of a CIA operative's identity in the George W. Bush administration.

In the months ahead, Zeidenberg said, "there is going to be a lot of noise, but not much clarity as to what's going on."

In his leak investigation, a lot of information eventually became public through the prosecution of former vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Absent a decision to charge someone with a crime, investigations in Congress may be the best way for people to understand what happened and why in last year's election interference.

True to form, a spokesman for special counsel Mueller declined to comment for this story.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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