Editorial: Nation must be patient as Russia probe unfolds

The Orange County Register
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For Americans feeling overwhelmed by the pace of political news today, it can be hard to see very far into the future — even more difficult than it has been in recent years.

The new appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel, overseeing the investigation into Russian election malfeasance, may help clarify matters. On the other hand, both voters and elected representatives should prepare to be patient, no matter how murky the road ahead appears.

Mueller — the bureau’s second-longest serving chief after J. Edgar Hoover — will likely prove a steady hand at a moment when many in Washington are losing their nerve.

Although Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had garnered cheers from President Trump’s critics by appointing Mueller, Rosenstein later revealed that he knew Trump would fire then-FBI Director James Comey before drawing up a memorandum invoked by Trump as justification for doing so. With Attorney General Jeff Sessions having recused himself from any federal Russia inquiry, the burden of keeping America’s legal machinery going in a cleanly nonpartisan way has fallen to Mueller, who himself is sure to frustrate nervous Republicans, Democrats smelling blood, and insiders who remain convinced that the investigation should stay a congressional affair.

Nevertheless, federal regulations provide a durable buffer behind which Mueller can carry on his investigation, at his pleasure, unmolested. There is no time limit on his appointment. Only the attorney general — or, in his effective absence, the deputy attorney general — can discipline or remove Mueller, and only then for “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause.”

Although, in keeping with his constitutional prerogative as head of the executive branch, President Trump could fire Rosenstein, such a drastic action (even Nixon didn’t go that far) would likely do more harm than good, whatever the outcome.

That tees up a potentially long road to this investigation, capable of making members of both parties lose their nerve or give in to destructive impulses of their own.

As the Founders knew, one of the most important aspects of our constitutional order was the way it slowed feverish actions and reactions, the better to help those passions cool without fading completely. Partisans of both stripes have a vested interest and a burning passion for a big, decisive victory — one that gets bothersome, stubborn foes out of the way and clears the path toward the kinds of sweeping policy realignments that are so often the stuff of Beltway dreams. In order to let Mueller do his work, those tempting visions will have to be set aside.

But the country cannot sit on its hands while a complex investigation picks through details the American people just won’t get to learn about until, at best, well after the fact. Neither, truth be told, can the nation’s capital.

Republican or Democrat, officials should focus on their obligation in Washington to keep governance orderly and productive as the process unfolds. Now is no time to try scoring ideological points off of the amped-up emotions and fears surrounding what, by any account, is an unprecedented and uncertain situation. Whoever is rewarded or punished next election cycle, the verdict of history will be unkind to opportunists.

— The Orange County Register