Who is Robert Mueller? New special counsel leading Russian investigation

Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel in the Department of Justice's Russia investigation on May 17, 2017. (CBS News Miami)
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was named special counsel by the U.S. Department of Justice to lead the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. (Tampa Bay Times file)
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was named special counsel by the U.S. Department of Justice to lead the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. (Tampa Bay Times file)

The Justice Department has appointed a special counsel to investigate connections between President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein selected former FBI director Robert Mueller for the task on May 17.

Mueller held his FBI role from 2001-13, serving under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, following a career in both the public and private sectors, including several years as a federal prosecutor. He also served in the Vietnam War as a Marine and is a Purple Heart recipient.

Mueller will resign from his position at law firm WilmerHale.

Mueller, 72, grew up near Philadelphia. He has a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University, a master’s degree in international relations from New York University, and a law degree from the University of Virginia. He is married and has two daughters.

The decision to appoint a special prosecutor comes amid mounting controversies about the investigation — including Trump’s decision to abruptly fire FBI Director James Comey, Mueller’s successor, on May 9 and allegations that Trump asked Comey to scale back the FBI probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Over the past week, Democratic lawmakers have ramped up their demands for an independent special prosecutor or counsel to look into the Russia allegations. Some said they wouldn’t approve Trump’s nominee to replace Comey unless the government appointed a special prosecutor.

Mueller will oversee the ongoing FBI investigation, and he has the authority to prosecute any federal crimes he uncovers, according to Rosenstein’s memo.

This task includes evaluating "any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump" and "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation."

In a statement, Rosenstein said his decision to appoint a special counsel does not mean prosecution is inevitable or that anyone is guilty of a crime.

"My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted," he said. "I have made no such determination. What I have determined is 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."

A special counsel has a degree of autonomy from the Justice Department, but Mueller will still answer to Rosenstein, according to the New York Times.

Rosenstein has overseen the Russia inquiry at the Justice Department since Attorney General Jeff Sessions agreed to recuse himself from all proceedings related to the Russia investigation. Sessions’ decision came after his his failure to disclose interactions he had with the Russian ambassador in 2016.

In statements to various media outlets, former government lawyers praised Mueller’s extensive experience working under both parties.

"Great choice. Incorruptible. As long as his charter is appropriately defined and he is properly resourced, this is a good move," said former Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement to MSNBCs Rachel Maddow.