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J. Scott Applewhite / AP

The DOJ appointed a special counsel Wednesday evening in the Trump-Russia probe. A look at how that role was created, and how it differs from what happened during Watergate:

Special Prosecutor

Richard Nixon appointed the first U.S. special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, in 1973 to investigate Watergate.

  • But there wasn't any law governing that appointment and his subsequent jurisdiction and powers.
  • So when Cox pressed Nixon over WH tapes, Nixon fired him, and pushed back against his replacement, arguing they didn't have that power.
Independent Counsel or Special Investigators

Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act (EGA) in 1977 to create a federal process for appointing special investigators.

  • The AG would run a preliminary investigation and if further probing was necessary, the AG would petition against a three judge panel to appoint an independent counsel.
  • Congress could also compel the AG to start that investigation.
  • The Special Investigator could prosecute federal crimes related to the investigation or interference into it, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses.
  • The Special Investigator could be removed for "good cause" by the AG or by Congress.
  • The law was not renewed in 1999.
Special Counsel — Current Law

Current law on Special Counsel (SC) is governed by the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Chapter 6, which has been the way to appoint a special counsel ever since 1999. The law gives the AG much more authority over the whether to appoint an SC, and over the investigation.

  • When to appoint an SC: If pursuing a matter would be a conflict of interest for the DOJ or if public interest would be served by removing responsibility from the DOJ.
  • Congress can request an SC be appointed.
  • The law puts the SC on par with any U.S. Attorney. The SC could get his or her jurisdiction expanded if necessary.
  • The SC can prosecute federal crimes committed, as well as interference into the investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses.
  • Although the SC is not subject to day-to-day supervision in the DOJ, but may have to provide explanation of investigative steps if the head of the DOJ requests it.
  • The SC can be removed by the AG for "misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies."

Go deeper

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Rahm Emanuel floated for Transportation secretary

Rahm Emanuel. Photo: Joshua Lott for The Washington Post via Getty Images

President-elect Biden is strongly considering Rahm Emanuel to run the Department of Transportation, weighing the former Chicago mayor’s experience on infrastructure spending against concerns from progressives over his policing record.

Why it matters: The DOT could effectively become the new Commerce Department, as infrastructure spending, smart cities construction and the rollout of drone-delivery programs take on increasing economic weight.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden turns to experienced hands for White House economic team

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Joe Biden plans to announce Cecilia Rouse and Brian Deese as part of his economic team and Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: These are experienced hands. Unveiling a diverse group of advisers also may draw attention away from a selection of Deese to run the National Economic Council. Some progressives have criticized his work at BlackRock, the world's largest asset management firm.

Biden taps former Obama communications director for press secretary

Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Jen Psaki, who previously served as Obama's communications director, will serve as President-elect Joe Biden's press secretary, the transition team announced Sunday.

The big picture: All of the top aides in Biden's communication staff will be women, per the Washington Post, which first reported Psaki's appointment.