Speaker of the House Paul Ryan meets with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray to discuss the Russia investigation. In the meeting, Ryan expresses his support for Representative Devin Nunes, who had previously threatened to hold Justice Department officials in contempt of Congress for not complying with his subpoenas for information about the agency’s handling of the Steele Dossier.
Robert S. Mueller III was appointed as Special Counsel to oversee the investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia on May 17, 2017. Prior to his appointment, Mueller accrued an impressive record of serving his country. He served as a Marine in Vietnam, for which he received a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. He was then appointed to lead the FBI by President George Bush, and was unanimously confirmed twice for this position, becoming the longest-tenured head of the agency since J. Edgar Hoover.
Calls for a Special Counsel began after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey. Following Comey’s firing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any investigation into the 2016 election after concerns were raised about his Russian contacts. Following his recusal, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a registered Republican, stepped in to oversee the investigation and appointed Robert Mueller, another registered Republican, as Special Counsel.
Congressional Republicans initially praised Mueller’s appointment. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) said in reference to the Russia investigation: “I see it as a positive thing, especially having Bob Mueller involved. It brings a lot of public credibility to whatever process they go through.” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) stated that he “[welcomed Mueller’s] role at the Department of Justice.” Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated that he had “a lot of confidence in Bob Mueller.”
However, this praise by Republicans quickly turned to criticism in late 2017. In November 2017, three Republican lawmakers introduced a bill calling for Mueller to step down, alleging that he was unable to be sufficiently impartial as a result of his previous post at the FBI. Further criticism came in December 2017 when it was revealed that a former investigator had sent anti-Trump texts to an FBI lawyer while working at the Special Counsel’s office. The discovery of these texts sparked allegations that the investigation was compromised and biased, although the agent had criticized Democratic officials as well and was quickly removed from the Special Counsel’s office. Following this incident, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified before the House Judiciary Committee and stated that he did not believe there was currently good cause to fire Mueller or shut down the investigation.
As detailed in Volume 2 of the Mueller report, Trump repeatedly tried to hinder or obstruct the investigation. This includes Trump allegedly ordering former White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller because of what the president described as apparent conflicts of interest and allegedly asking his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to limit the investigation and stop Mueller from investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump also bragged of his “complete power to pardon,” which many interpreted as a sign that he would pardon any campaign or administration officials caught up in the probe.
Mueller completed his investigation in 2019, after which he delivered a 448 page report to the new Attorney General, William Barr. Barr released a 4 page summary of the report to the public stating that the Trump Campaign had not conspired or coordinated with Russia. In response to this summary, Mueller wrote a letter to Barr refuting Barr’s characterization of his findings and arguing that, while it was not factually inaccurate, it “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of his work and conclusions. A redacted report was then publicly released on April 18th, 2019. After its release Mueller held a press conference summarizing the report and formally stepped down from his position at the Justice Department. Mueller later testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence about his investigation’s findings.