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Who is Robert Mueller?

FBI Director Robert Mueller

FBI Director Robert Mueller   | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

U.S. President Donald Trump may be the most powerful person on earth, but he could be stopped in his tracks by another person as things stand now: Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. Mueller is the Special Counsel overseeing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) probe of “Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election and related matters,” appointed in May 2017.

Who has he cornered?

On December 1, Mr. Mueller’s team indicted Michael Flynn, who served as Mr. Trump’s National Security Adviser for 24 days, for lying to its agents about the nature of his conversations with the former Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Mr. Flynn has pleaded guilty. The Mueller investigation is source of news, hope and despair in America, depending on who you are. Sections that want an early end to the Trump presidency are pinning their hopes on what the 73-year-old former FBI Director will unravel in the coming weeks; sections that are loyal to the President believe the investigation is a witch hunt and some are clamouring for his dismissal. Meanwhile, the news environment is saturated with speculation on what Mr. Mueller will do next, most importantly, whether he is closing in on people closer to the President or the President himself.

What are his credentials?

Mr. Mueller, a Vietnam war veteran who worked as a private lawyer and Justice Department official later, was appointed FBI Director in 2001 by President George W. Bush. Taking over the reins of the FBI weeks before the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Mueller was faced with unprecedented security challenges. As he sought to expand the functions of the agency, he created a reputation for himself and courted some criticism. However, in a sign of the bipartisan approval he earned, Mr. Mueller’s term was extended for two years by President Barack Obama after the original 10-year tenure ended in 2011. In 2013, he returned to the private sector.

When did the probe begin?

Mr. Mueller’s return to oversee the politically explosive Russia investigation was preceded by the controversial sacking in May by Mr. Trump of James Comey, who succeeded him as FBI Director. The FBI’s Russia investigation had begun in mid-2016 when the Democratic National Committee emails were hacked and released, in what the FBI says was an operation authorised by the Kremlin.

As the new administration was taking over in January, U.S. agencies concluded that Russian interference was with the purpose of helping Mr. Trump win. The FBI had also wiretapped a conversation between NSA-appointee Mr. Flynn and the Russian ambassador, the details of which were leaked to the media. As allegations of Russian links engulfed his nascent administration, Mr. Trump sacked Mr. Comey. The Deputy Attorney-General in charge of the Russia investigation appointed Mr. Mueller as a Special Counsel to insulate it from the FBI command and control structure.

What is he looking into?

Since the mandate of the investigation is all “related matters,” By now, it is clear that the probe has branched out into questions such as a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer in June 2016, whether the campaign was colluding with Russian agents in spreading fake news on social media, and the Trump family’s business links with Russia, if any. There are no official statements on these yet from the investigators. What has, however, fuelled speculation is Mr. Flynn’s cooperation with the FBI. and Mr. Mueller’s relatively lenient approach toward him. The question is whether Mr. Mueller has extracted some information from Mr. Flynn that could implicate the First Family or the President. Mr. Flynn’s was the fourth indictment by the Special Counsel. Whether a Special Counsel could indict a President remains an open legal question. One possible outcome that legal experts speculate on is the investigation concluding that the President’s actions, particularly the dismissal of Mr. Comey, constitute “obstruction of justice,” a federal offence. He could leave further action to Congress. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers and the section of the media that supports the President have launched a campaign against Mr. Mueller. Some are even calling for his sacking — which Mr. Trump can do, since he is an executive appointee. Some advisers and lawyers of the President say Mr. Mueller will soon conclude the investigations, exonerating Mr. Trump of any wrongdoing.

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Printable version | Aug 15, 2020 8:28:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/who-is-robert-mueller/article21381473.ece

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