What is the difference between a special commission, a special committee, and a special prosecutor?

Even though the FBI’s acting Director, Andrew McCabe, has said the FBI’s investigation will continue, Democrats and Republicans alike have been calling for some form of an Independent Commission, Special Committee or Special Prosecutor. These terms are being used interchangeably (even by members of Congress!), but they are different. The differences are important, so listen up.

Independent Commission: A commission responsible for investigating major, complex issues. These commissions typically involve witnesses providing testimony and review of documents, which all leads to a report with findings. Congress determines the scope of these investigations and approves the budget, so starting an independent commission can require bipartisan support.

Select Committee: A committee formed for a specific purpose, usually to investigate an issue, with the power to call witnesses and take testimony. The duties, powers, and procedures of these committees are determined by Congress.

Congress has the power to create a select committee to investigate Russia. A small handful of Republicans, including John McCain (R-AZ), have called for some form of independent or select Congressional committee, with around 85 Democrats seeking some form of independent commission or investigation.

Special Counsel / Prosecutor:
You may have read that the law governing special prosecutors expired in 1999, and that’s true, but, in certain instances, the Department of Justice can still appoint special counsel to handle specific cases. The rub is that it’s something the U.S. Attorney General has to do. Jeff Sessions has “recused” himself from Russia investigations, leaving Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as the person who would have to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Trump. Given both of their involvement in Comey’s firing, the odds of this happening seem low. Around 140 Democrats and Independents are calling for a special prosecutor (counsel), with some Democrats calling to refuse to appoint a new FBI Director unless there is an agreement that DOJ will appoint a special prosecutor.

Here are articles that break it down:


What’s up in Congress right now–aren’t there committees investigating stuff?

Yes. Congress has four committees currently investigating Russia. They are:

The House Intelligence Committee
The House Oversight Committee
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
The Senate Judiciary Committee

What’s wrong with those committees?

That would take more time to answer than we have here. But, in a nutshell:

They are partisan (none of the Republican members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have done more than express mild concern about Comey’s firing, and some support it)
They are not well resourced (the Senate Judiciary committee, for example, has no professional staff dedicated to their investigation)
They are shady (remember the Nunes debacle?)