Special Counsel Robert Mueller is already closely managing the Russian election meddling investigation he was appointed to oversee, receiving daily briefings and weighing in on investigative tactics, a spokesman told NBC News Friday.
Mueller was appointed May 17 after the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, took himself out of overseeing the Russia investigation. Rosenstein said the move was in the public interest and was intended to bolster confidence in the outcome of the probe.
Members of Congress called for the appointment of an outsider after the disclosure that Rosenstein drafted a memo cited by President Trump as supporting his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey.
Because Mueller is only the second special counsel appointed under rules drawn up nearly two decades ago, there were few precedents to guide how he would oversee the investigation. He could have chosen to take a more removed role, instead of overseeing developments closely.
“Is he going to play a direct role? Yes, he’s very involved in supervising the investigation,” said Peter Carr, the spokesman for the special counsel.
Federal rules specify that a special counsel will have “the full power and independent authority to exercise all investigative and prosecutorial functions of any United States attorney.”
Mueller will act much as a U.S. attorney would in supervising a local FBI investigation, Carr added.
While Mueller has the option to bring in a separate group of investigators, he is so far relying on the current team working the case at the FBI, Carr said.
The only other special counsel, former Sen. John Danforth, was appointed in 1999 to investigate the FBI’s role in the fiery end to the standoff at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. Because the FBI’s conduct was at issue, Danforth brought in outside investigators.
The immediate challenge is deciding how many people to hire, including lawyers and support staff, and how the process should be managed.
Under the special counsel rules, Mueller must draw up a budget within 60 days for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends September 30, with further budgets to come for each following year.
For now, Carr said, Mueller is getting up to speed on the details of the investigation so far and assessing the management needs.