Story highlights

  • A special prosecutor could oversee an existing or future criminal investigations
  • A select committee has certain investigative powers, like the ability to serve subpoenas
Some have argued for the appointment of a special prosecutor, while others promote the formation of a congressional “select committee” and a third group suggests the launch of a new bipartisan commission. While none of these options are mutually exclusive, there are, however, significant differences in the purpose, scope and viability of these approaches.

“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:

Special counsel

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided earlier this month to recuse himself from any existing or future investigations related to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign (or transition) after reports surfaced that Sessions had met with a Russian diplomat last year. As a result of Sessions’ recusal, Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente (or Trump’s nominee Rod Rosenstein, if confirmed by the Senate), would now oversee any FBI investigation into whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia’s purported meddling in the presidential election.
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Yet Sessions’ recusal hasn’t stopped Democrats from continuing to call for a “special prosecutor” to investigate.
The attorney general’s regulations provide for appointment of outside “special counsel” by the acting attorney general in certain circumstances, including if handling by the Justice Department would “present a conflict of interest for the department or other extraordinary circumstances,” and if “it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside special counsel to assume responsibility for the matter.”

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.

In other words, the goal of an investigation conducted by a special prosecutor “is not to answer public questions about what happened or what may still be happening,” as Wittes wrote in a recent post on Lawfare, but rather to conduct “a set of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence investigations that may (or may not) have criminal investigative elements.”

Select committee

While a number of House and Senate committees are currently examining Russian interference in the election, Arizona Sen. John McCain and other outside experts have specifically called for a “select committee,” with new members hand-picked by current congressional leadership.
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Advantages of using such a select committee include newly dedicated staff with sufficient expertise and time, subpoena power to compel testimony and documents, and ideally, implementation without the arguable taint of influence by the White House — an accusation that has besieged existing structures like the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation.

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.”

Bipartisan commission

On the other end of the spectrum, some have called for a new bipartisan commission to investigate Russia, much in the same vein as the 9/11 Commission.
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playing, inject analytics data* for Aspen (if enabled) and the companion ad layout* (if it was set when the ad played) should switch back to* epic ad layout. onContentPlay calls updateCompanionLayout* with the ‘restoreEpicAds’ layout to make this switch*/if (CNN.companion && typeof CNN.companion.updateCompanionLayout === ‘function’) {CNN.companion.updateCompanionLayout(‘restoreEpicAds’);}clearTimeout(moveToNextTimeout);CNN.VideoPlayer.hideSpinner(containerId);if (CNN.VideoPlayer.getLibraryName(containerId) === ‘fave’) {playerInstance = FAVE.player.getInstance(containerId) || null;} else {playerInstance = containerId && window.cnnVideoManager.getPlayerByContainer(containerId).videoInstance.cvp || null;}prevVideoId = (window.jsmd && window.jsmd.v && (window.jsmd.v.eVar18 || window.jsmd.v.eVar4)) || ”;if (playerInstance && typeof playerInstance.reportAnalytics === ‘function’) {if (prevVideoId.length === 0 && document.referrer && document.referrer.search(//videos//) >= 0) {prevVideoId = document.referrer.replace(/^(?:http|https)://[^/]/videos/(.+.w+)(?:/video/playlists/.*)?$/, ‘/video/$1’);if (prevVideoId === document.referrer) {prevVideoId = ”;}}playerInstance.reportAnalytics(‘videoPageData’, {videoCollection: currentVideoCollectionId,videoBranding: CNN.omniture.branding_content_page,templateType: CNN.omniture.template_type,nextVideo: nextVideoId,previousVideo: prevVideoId,referrerType: ”,referrerUrl: document.referrer});}if (Modernizr && !Modernizr.phone && !Modernizr.mobile && !Modernizr.tablet) {if (typeof videoPinner !== ‘undefined’ && videoPinner !== null) {videoPinner.setIsPlaying(true);videoPinner.animateDown();}}},onContentReplayRequest: function (containerId, cvpId, contentId) {if (Modernizr && !Modernizr.phone && !Modernizr.mobile && !Modernizr.tablet) {if (typeof videoPinner !== ‘undefined’ && videoPinner !== null) {videoPinner.setIsPlaying(true);var $endSlate = jQuery(document.getElementById(containerId)).parent().find(‘.js-video__end-slate’).eq(0);if ($endSlate.length > 0) {$endSlate.removeClass(‘video__end-slate–active’).addClass(‘video__end-slate–inactive’);}}}},onContentBegin: function (containerId, cvpId, contentId) {CNN.VideoPlayer.mutePlayer(containerId);if (CNN.companion && typeof CNN.companion.updateCompanionLayout === ‘function’) {CNN.companion.updateCompanionLayout(‘removeEpicAds’);}CNN.VideoPlayer.hideSpinner(containerId);clearTimeout(moveToNextTimeout);CNN.VideoSourceUtils.clearSource(containerId);jQuery(document).triggerVideoContentStarted();},onContentComplete: function (containerId, cvpId, contentId) {if (CNN.companion && typeof CNN.companion.updateCompanionLayout === ‘function’) {CNN.companion.updateCompanionLayout(‘restoreFreewheel’);}navigateToNextVideo(contentId, containerId);},onContentEnd: function (containerId, cvpId, contentId) {if (Modernizr && !Modernizr.phone && !Modernizr.mobile && !Modernizr.tablet) {if (typeof videoPinner !== ‘undefined’ && videoPinner !== null) {videoPinner.setIsPlaying(false);}}},onCVPVisibilityChange: function (containerId, cvpId, visible) {CNN.VideoPlayer.handleAdOnCVPVisibilityChange(containerId, visible);}};if (typeof configObj.context !== ‘string’ || configObj.context.length 0) {configObj.adsection = window.ssid;}CNN.autoPlayVideoExist = (CNN.autoPlayVideoExist === true) ? true : false;CNN.VideoPlayer.getLibrary(configObj, callbackObj, isLivePlayer);});/* videodemanddust is a default feature of the injector */CNN.INJECTOR.scriptComplete(‘videodemanddust’);

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