Appoint special counsel in Russia probe

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in March, weeks after being sworn in.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in March, weeks after being sworn in. Getty Images

Rod Rosenstein’s reputation precedes him: straight arrow, hews to the law, nonpartisan. Now, it’s a reputation that he must protect, every bit as much as he must shield our increasing fragile governmental processes that protect Americans from authoritarianism and tyranny.

His boss, President Trump, might not know it, but Rosenstein is in offiice to serve the interests of the American people and the law — in spite of ginning up the laughable rationale for firing FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday.

He must either appoint a truly independent special prosecutor to bring credibility to the investigation into reputed connections between Trump’s associates during the 2016 presidential campaign or step aside, Democratic leaders have demanded, for someone in this increasingly compromised Justice Department who will.

It’s a lot to ask for of a guy who just started this job and already has been a tool of the president and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who despite his vow to recuse himself from Russia-related issues curiously reinserted himself in drumming Comey out of a job.

The bottom line? Rosenstein must resist drinking the Republicans’ Kool-Aid.

Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell already has guzzled it: “Today we’ll no doubt hear calls for a new investigation,” he said on the Senate floor on Wednesday, “which can only serve to impede the current work being done.”

Sen. Sue Collins took a sip: “Any suggestion that today’s announcement is somehow an effort to stop the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s attempt to influence the election last fall is misplaced.”

Others Republicans, however, are not imbibing: Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, told CNN, “The timing of all of this is something the administration will have to answer questions about.”

Bingo — and Thune is not alone. And the last thing the stalled and sluggish investigations into Trump & Co.’s ties to the Russians are softball questions or, worse, no questions at all. It’s clear that is where the president and his enablers want to go, especially with calls of, “Let’s move on.”

No, let’s not. Plus, it’s too late. For instance, before Comey was fired, federal prosecutors issued subpoenas to associates of Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, as part of the investigation into his Russia connections.

A special prosecutor, or independent counsel, is appointed when there is a conflict for the Justice Department to conduct a probe. In this case, both the attorney general and deputy are nominated by the president and therefore, accountable to him.

Conflicts abound here: Sessions has his own Russia-connection problems, which is why he recused himself.

So it is no small betrayal of his word that he was instrumental in Comey’s firing. (It’s nothing short of stunning, too, that Comey ultimately fell, according to the Justice Department, because of his ham-handed handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, an act thought to have propelled Trump into the White House. Now they’re upset?)

It’s imperative that Republicans of conscience join forces with their outraged Democratic colleagues, who have little leverage to use, and demand Rosenstein come through.

The other bottom line: Rosenstein, the straight-arrow nonpartisan, must love this country more than he loves his job.