The appointment of an independent special counsel to lead the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election would be a “common-sense” move, former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara wrote in an op-ed published Sunday evening, especially in the wake of former FBI Director James Comey’s dismissal.
Bharara, who like Comey was fired by President Donald Trump despite initial indications that he would be allowed to stay on at the Justice Department, wrote in his Washington Post op-ed that a special prosecutor must be “independent and uncompromised” and that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Russia investigation because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from it, must appoint one.
“Given the manner of Comey’s firing and the pretextual reasons proffered for it, there is no other way,” wrote Bharara, formerly the top prosecutor in Manhattan.
While early explanations from White House aides detailed how it was Rosenstein’s recommendation that persuaded Trump to fire Comey, the president himself said in an interview with NBC News that he had made up his mind to fire the FBI director before meeting with his deputy attorney general. Further, Trump said that the Russia investigation was on his mind as he made the decision to dismiss Comey, escalating alarm in some circles that the president had sought to impede the bureau’s probe.
Bharara said Rosenstein, who he labeled “a respected career prosecutor,” nonetheless bears a special responsibility to appoint a special prosecutor given his role in Comey’s firing. Rosenstein has “mostly deserved the doubts he generated” by seemingly aiding Trump in dismissing the FBI director, Bharara wrote, and as such, bringing in a special prosecutor “would not only ensure the independence of the investigation, but also provide evidence of Rosenstein’s own independence.”
A special prosecutor alone is not sufficient, Bharara wrote. It must be supplemented by a truly bipartisan investigation in Congress as well as a replacement FBI director who is “apolitical and sensitive to the law-enforcement mission.”
“History will judge this moment,” Bharara wrote. “It’s not too late to get it right, and justice demands it.”