Meet the man behind the Trump-Russia investigation: the special counsel Robert Mueller

Robert Mueller was director of the FBI for 12 years.

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Robert Mueller was director of the FBI for 12 years.
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Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The special counsel Robert Mueller is turning 74 as the second week of the first trial in his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections seeks to prosecute President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

That probe is also examining whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin, and if Trump has obstructed justice while in office.

In Washington, Mueller has a reputation for being a tenacious investigator. Both Republicans and Democrats welcomed his appointment in May 2017 with bipartisan backing.

His team has reached 34 indictments in the investigation so far, but the increasing breadth and length of his investigation has irked many Trump supporters, and the president himself.

Mueller’s colleagues, meanwhile, say he has proven his bipartisan bona fides over the years. After all, he served under both Republican and Democratic presidents as FBI director and as an attorney in the Department of Justice.

As the probe into Russia, Trump, and his associates wages on, here’s a look at Mueller’s history:


Born Robert Swan Mueller III in New York City in 1944, “Bob” grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, the elder brother to four younger sisters. Their father was an executive at DuPont. He captained the soccer, hockey, and lacrosse teams in high school.

Sources: FBI, St. Paul’s School


Mueller went to undergrad at Princeton University, got his Master’s in international relations from New York University, and graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1973.

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University of Virginia School of Law/Facebook

Source: FBI


When one of his friends died in the Vietnam War, Mueller was inspired to join the military. He had been previously pursuing a career in the medical field.

Source: Princeton Alumni Weekly


In 1968, Mueller enlisted in the Marine Corps and went on to become a decorated officer serving in Vietnam. He received a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, and two Navy Commendation Medals.

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Mueller is a decorated war veteran.
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Alex Wong/Getty

After his military service, Mueller joined the San Francisco office of the international law firm, Pillsbury, Madison and Sutro. He worked as a litigator for three years.


Then he spent more than a decade in government working for US Attorney offices in California, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC, gaining particular expertise in prosecuting white collar crime.

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Mueller attends the swearing in of James Comey as the new FBI director in 2013.
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Alex Wong/Getty

Mueller is respected among his colleagues for his dedication to public service. In one example, a former associate was stunned when Mueller chose in 1995 to work in the homicide section of the US Attorney’s Office in DC, which was perceived as a demotion for the highly credentialed lawyer.


Mueller reportedly explained his decision by saying, “There’s just too many young people dying violently in this city, and I want to do my share to put an end to that.”

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Robert Mueller pauses after making an opening statement at the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2013.
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REUTERS/Larry Downing/File Photo

Source: TIME


Working on major cases involving financial fraud, terrorism, public corruption, money laundering, and narcotics conspiracies helped Mueller become a seasoned investigator over the years.


A week before 9/11, he was sworn in as the director of the FBI under President George W. Bush. The Senate confirmed him unanimously even though he was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the time.

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Mueller served under Bush for the majority of his FBI career.
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Robert Trippett/Getty

Source: CNN and CBS News


In 2002, Mueller was the subject of lawsuits filed by Muslim immigrants who claimed they had been beaten and abused by officials in immigration detention centers because of policies the Bush Administration implemented after 9/11. The Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that Mueller, along with John Ashcroft, the former attorney general, could not be sued.

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Mueller is praised across the political aisle.
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Thomson Reuters

Source: The New York Times


In 2004, there was a standoff between Mueller and Bush after he and other Justice Department officials threatened to resign if changes were not made to the National Security Agency’s domestic wiretapping program. Bush conceded in the end.

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Mueller stands with Bush in the Rose Garden.
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Mark Wilson/Getty

Source: Washington Post


After Mueller finished his 10-year term in 2011, President Barack Obama asked him to stay for two more years. He was the longest-serving FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover, who founded the bureau in 1935.

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President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FBI Director Robert Mueller attend the National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service Washington.
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Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Source: FBI


Mueller is often praised on Capitol Hill for his service under both Republicans and Democratic presidents.

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Mueller confirmed that the FBI uses drones for domestic surveillance during a hearing on FBI oversight in 2013.
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Alex Wong/Getty

Even though Mueller is a Republican, many Democrats admire him. Earlier this year, Democratic Senator Jim Himes said, “There’s not anybody with as much credibility internally or whose integrity is as unimpeachable as Bob Mueller.”

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Mueller’s colleagues have praiseworthy things to say about him.
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Mark Wilson/Getty

Sources: The Washington Post, The Washington Post


But it’s Mueller’s breadth of experience with high-profile litigation that has earned him the most respect.

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Mueller attends a funeral at Arlington Cemetery in 2011.
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Brendan Smialowski/Getty

During his private and public sector careers, Mueller presided over many noteworthy cases, including the prosecutions of Panama’s former dictator, Manuel Noriega, and New York City crime boss, John Gotti.

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Mueller has presided over many high-profile cases throughout his career.
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Thomson Reuters

In 2015, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell put Mueller in charge of investigating the widely-publicized Ray Rice incident. Rice, then a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was indicted on third-degree aggravated assault for beating his fiancée, although the charges were later dropped.

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NFL Roger Goodell greets football fans.
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Sean M. Haffey/Getty

Source: Mueller NFL Report


In March 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from all Russia-related investigative matters after failing to disclose his campaign-trail meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, setting off a chain of events.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a press conference.
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Alex Wong/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider


In May 2017, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who testified before Congress that he thought it was because of the investigation he was conducting into Trump and his associates’ ties to Russia. Sessions had recommended his firing, so his recusal was then thrown into question.

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Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 9.
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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Sources: Business Insider, Business Insider


On May 17, 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller special counsel to take over the Russia investigation, including “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.”

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James Comey and Robert Mueller walk together outside the White House.
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Win McNamee/Getty

Sources: Business Insider, DOJ


Some Trump allies have criticized Mueller’s closeness to Comey and accused him of overreaching in the investigation. In response to calls for his firing, senators introduced bipartisan legislation that would allow Mueller to challenge the Department of Justice in court if he were removed. That bill has stalled in Congress.

Sources: LA Times, New York Post, WBUR, Business Insider


In October 2017, George Papadopoulos, a foreign-policy adviser to Trump’s campaign in early 2016, secretly pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about the nature and extent of his contacts with foreign nationals who he knew had ties to senior Russian government officials.

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George Papadopoulos.
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Trump Campaign

Source: Business Insider


On October 30, 2017, a grand jury indicted Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s former business associate Rick Gates, on 12 counts.

Source: Business Insider


Manafort pleaded not guilty, and his trial wages on. Gates flipped and pleaded guilty in February, and is now cooperating with Mueller. He is testifying against Manafort in the special counsel’s first trial against his former mentor.

Source: Business Insider


Mueller’s notable progress with former Trump associates also includes the president’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who promised testimony about Trump’s knowledge of the campaign’s 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer.

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Michael Cohen.
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Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


On May 17, 2018, the Mueller probe officially entered its second year — and experts said it’s still in the starting stages.

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The Justice Department appointed Mueller as Special Counsel in May 2017.
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Aaron Bernstein/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


Despite Trump’s regular hits against the investigation as a “witch hunt,” and hits against US intelligence, Mueller’s team has so far delivered over 30 indictments.

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Getty

Source: Business Insider


Various lawmakers have sided with Trump and spoken out for the investigation to end, but plenty have pushed for it to go on. It’s unclear how close Mueller may be to concluding the case, but past special counsel investigations have taken multiple years.

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Robert Mueller.
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Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Sources: Business Insider, USA Today, Reuters