Robert Mueller's appointment as a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department's investigation of Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election does not in any way preclude muscular congressional oversight into the matter.
Nor does it give congressional witnesses carte blanche to duck questions they do not feel like answering in public.
Within hours of the announcement about Mueller, Republican members of Congress started using his leadership of the investigation as an excuse to stand down.
“You’ve got a special counsel who has prosecutorial powers now, and I think we in Congress have to be very careful not to interfere," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters on Thursday. "Public access to this is probably going to be very limited now. It’s going to really limit what the public will know about this.”
And one of several congressional witnesses-in-waiting cited Mueller as an excuse not to answer even basic questions from his ostensible congressional overseers. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who played a highly controversial role in Comey's firing, briefed Senate and House members last week -- in a closed session, despite the lack of any discussion of classified material.
“Basically any question of any substance, it was, ‘I can’t comment because it may be the subject of an investigation by Mueller,’ ” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told the New York Times.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Teaxs) said in a statement that "the most frequent answer I heard to questions from members of either party was 'I cannot answer that question.' He declined to answer any question concerning his personal conduct, motivation, or the circumstances of the firing of FBI Director James Comey, indicating that even this could be within the scope of the Mueller investigation."