Prosecutors in the Court of Public Opinion
23 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2019
Date Written: June 4, 2019
Some prosecutors have been criticized for discussing their cases in the public media, but not Special Counsel Robert Mueller. During his investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 presidential campaign, he was described as “a man who seldom speaks and is rarely seen . . . omnipresent and absent, inescapable but elusive.” Former Independent Counsel Ken Starr, who investigated President Clinton, seemed to think Mueller was reticent to a fault. Starr expressed the view that federal prosecutors’ obligation of accountability to the public ordinarily calls on them to speak more freely about their work.
Using Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation as a case study—indeed, as a study in contrast—this essay considers prosecutors’ relationship with the media. It identifies some law enforcement-related reasons why, in limited circumstances, prosecutors’ offices might discuss their investigations and prosecutions outside of judicial proceedings. But this essay challenges the idea that prosecutors’ duty of accountability requires them generally to discuss ongoing cases in the public media.
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