- A special prosecutor could oversee an existing or future criminal investigations
- A select committee has certain investigative powers, like the ability to serve subpoenas
“This is not comparing apples to oranges,” said Benjamin Wittes, senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “It’s apples to orangutans.”
Here’s a breakdown of the various paths available and how they differ:
Experts say the main purpose of special prosecutor in the Russia situation would be the pursuit of an independently driven criminal investigation.
“They can utilize a grand jury, they can ask to return indictments, they would be empowered to pick staff (of their choosing), and provided with a budget to carry out responsibilities,” said attorney Richard Ben-Veniste, who served as the former chief of the Watergate Special Prosecutor’s Watergate Task Force and on the bipartisan 9/11 Commission.
While both a special counsel and a select committee could employ certain investigative functions, Wittes cautions that they serve different purposes: The special prosecutor function is “designed to prosecute crimes,” whereas a select committee is “designed to do an investigation so that Congress would know how to pursue it’s constitutional functions.”
But Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society, said the choice between a special prosecutor and a select committee “shouldn’t be either/or,” despite the fact that “there are somewhat different interests being protected” — both approaches are useful “given that the stakes are so high here.”