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Mueller Probe Sparks Interest In Other Special Counsel Reports

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK. So when President Richard Nixon fired the Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox, Leon Jaworski was named to replace him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEON JAWORSKI: I was given unqualified assurance that there would be absolutely no constraints on my freedom to seek any and all evidence, including the presidential files, and to invoke the judicial process.

GREENE: Jaworski never actually produced a formal report of his investigation. Instead, he turned over what has come to be called a road map of his findings to the House Judiciary Committee, which was then considering the impeachment of Richard Nixon. The special counsel reports are the subject we're going to cover today with commentator Cokie Roberts, who is with us for our regular Ask Cokie segment.

Hi, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: Democrats in Congress are demanding that they see the full report from Robert Mueller, of course. And they want to see it soon, which leads to our first question.

MATT SCHUTZ: Hi, Cokie. This is Matt Schutz (ph) from Louisville, Ky. What is the full list of parties that have the authority to subpoena or otherwise access the full Mueller report contents? Thank you.

ROBERTS: Well, there's no list of parties. The question gets to - what happens if Attorney General Barr does not give Congress the full report or at least the report with redactions for matters like grand jury testimony? Can Congress then subpoena Barr or Robert Mueller? And the answer is that the committees will certainly try, David. And then a battle of the branches would probably ensue, with the whole thing ending up in court.

There's no statutory requirement for the attorney general to give the full report to Congress. Justice Department regulations only require him to make a report to the chairs and ranking members of the judiciary committees of each house. That's very unlike the case of Kenneth Starr, who was operating under a different set of rules.

GREENE: And the rules are something that I think a lot of listeners are curious about understanding. And that leads to another listener. Her name's Andrea Mays (ph). And she wrote us, what is the legislative history of the independent counsel statute?

ROBERTS: Well, as you can imagine, it's fraught.

GREENE: Sure.

ROBERTS: After Watergate, where the attorney general named the special prosecutor, the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 provided for an independent counsel to be named by a special three-judge panel at the attorney general's request. Then a proliferation of those counsels were named, most famously of course in the Iran-Contra investigation and Whitewater, which led to the impeachment of President Clinton. When the law came up for renewal in 1999, it was allowed to die. So now it's the Department of Justice regulations that govern the process.

GREENE: Well, we have another question here. It's someone who's interested in the process and in all of these special counsels.

MIKE FRANCES: My name is Mike Frances (ph) from Jacksonville, Fl. How often are special counsels used purely for political hit jobs - as well the process crimes used as political mafia tactics? Thank you.

GREENE: Political hit jobs, mafia tactics - OK - Cokie?

ROBERTS: (Laughter). Well, that's in the eye of the beholder, of course. In the Clinton years, seven different independent counsels were named to look at alleged wrongdoing among members of the administration, costing taxpayer dollars and not necessarily resulting in any convictions. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, for example, was found not guilty on all 30 charges of taking gifts from businesses. Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros agreed to plead guilty to a minor charge of lying to the investigators about how much he paid his mistress. So all of that contributed, David, to the allowance of the independent counsel law to just die.

GREENE: OK. Cokie, thanks for all of this - good stuff.

ROBERTS: Always good to talk to you, David.

GREENE: Commentator Cokie Roberts - and you can ask Cokie your questions about how politics and government work. Just tweet us. Use the hashtag #AskCokie.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE GREG FOAT GROUP'S "THE DANCERS WALTZ") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.