Opinion

SCOT LEHIGH

A special counsel, a sense of relief

FILE -- FBI Director Robert Mueller III testifies during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 9, 2012. The Justice Department has appointed Mueller to serve as a special counsel to oversee its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced on May 17, 2017, a move that dramatically raises the stakes for President Donald Trump. (Luke Sharrett/The New York Times)
Luke Sharret/New York Times
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been appointed to serve as a special counsel to oversee an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Finally, someone has done the right thing.

Reviled for the part he played in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein redeemed himself Wednesday by appointing a special counsel to direct the FBI’s investigation into the Russia imbroglio.

The act was as courageous as it was necessary. And the man Rosenstein selected — former FBI director and federal prosecutor Robert Mueller — is absolutely first rate. Now, for the first time since news of the Russian efforts to interfere with the US presidential election broke, we have a reasonable assurance that the American people may come to know the facts about this tangled matter.

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In making the appointment, Rosenstein said in a statement that his decision “is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted.” Rather, the deputy attorney general said, he had determined that “based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command.”

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That’s exactly apt. After all, President Trump has not only railed against the FBI’s investigation, he has apparently tried to discourage it other ways. As we learned on Tuesday, according to a memo Comey wrote at the time, Trump pushed him in February to end any investigation of Michael Flynn, who resigned as the president’s national security adviser after news broke that he misled the administration about the extent of his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

And when Comey didn’t, Trump fired him. The president and his aides originally said that the firing was triggered by Justice Department concerns over the way Comey conducted himself in the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server. That story quickly fell apart however, with Trump himself saying that he had decided to terminate Comey before even hearing those concerns. Trump further said that the Russia investigation had been on his mind in making his decision to get rid of Comey. Given the president’s demonstrated hostility to such an investigation, an independent counsel was absolutely essential to inspire confidence this probe will proceed free of political interference.

Mueller will obviously look into any communications between Trump’s campaign circle and Russian operatives. He’ll obviously question Comey exhaustively about what the president said to him in the Oval Office about Trump’s hopes that “you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Given that incident alone, it seems very likely that he’ll interview the president.

The administration must cooperate fully with this effort. If there was no collusion with the Russians — no obstruction of justice, no compromising circumstances or financial ties — then they have little to fear. Meanwhile, premature talk of impeaching Trump should cease as this investigation goes forward.

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The nation can now take a breath.

Thank you, Rod Rosenstein, for rising to the occasion.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.