What is a special counsel and what powers will Mueller yield?

Image 1 of 2

The investigation into the Russian government's alleged interference in the presidential election of 2016 is in the hands of the newly appointed special counsel former FBI Director Robert Mueller.

As an independent prosecutor, Mueller will have very wide authority with respect to Russian involvement in the campaign and obstruction of justice.  

He will have the power to subpoena and to prosecute and will not need the cooperation of ousted FBI Director James Comey or former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

While U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein have removed themselves from the probe, the Justice Department will continue to have powers over Mueller.

"Although it is considered an independent investigation, the Justice Department still has the power to fire Mueller without giving any reason at all," said Professor and attorney Nicole Gordon.  "There are other aspects that can be problematic."

While unlikely, Mueller may not be provided with the resources he needs for a thorough probe. Also, at any moment, the Justice Department can find out what Mueller is doing and order him not to follow a certain path in the investigation.

As special counsel, Mueller cannot call for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. That decision is up to the U.S. Congress.