WASHINGTON >> The investigation by the Justice Department’s special counsel, Robert Mueller, into links between the Trump campaign and Russia has cost American taxpayers almost $7 million in its first 4 1/2 months, according to a statement of expenditures released today.
Mueller’s team spent $3.2 million directly, the statement shows. The Justice Department, including the FBI, spent another $3.5 million supporting the investigation, with most of that money going toward salaries for prosecutors and investigators and for travel.
Though modest so far compared to some previous investigations of its size, Mueller’s spendingis likely to provide another point of attack from President Donald Trump’s defenders, including Republicans in the House, who believe the president is being unfairly targeted by a politically motivated Justice Department. Trump has challenged Mueller’s hiring decisions — most recently highlighting the removal of Peter Strzok, a top FBI official, after the department’s inspector general began examining whether he sent text messages expressing anti-Trump views.
Kenneth W. Starr, an independent counsel appointed in the 1990s, spent more than $50 million investigating President Bill Clinton between 1994 and 1998. Starr’s investigation hastened Clinton’s impeachment by the House. And Lawrence E. Walsh, who investigated the Iran Contra affair during the Ronald Reagan administration, spent $47 million over eight years.
Mueller’s expenses represent the cost of the investigation from the time of his appointment as special counsel in mid-May, following the firing of James Comey as FBI director, through the end of September. Under the law, a special counsel is required to produce an expense report every six months.
Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer dealing with matters related to the investigations, declined to comment on the costs.
Putting a price tag on any government investigation is somewhat misleading. The special counsel’s investigation is not spending money that was appropriated by Congress beyond regular Justice Department funds; the costs are coming out of the existing budget. It is easier to think of the dollar figure as money that the Justice Department could have spent investigating something else.
The report provides few details into the specifics of Mueller’s work, noting merely that he has spent $1.7 million on personnel, $362,000 for rent and utilities, $733,000 for equipment, $223,000 for travel and $157,000 for contract services, including transcription services. Mueller has hired a team of 17 lawyers. Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the special counsel, declined to say how many other support staffers were working for him.
Evidence suggests that the special counsel’s team has moved quickly in its opening months. Mueller has brought criminal charges against four of Trump’s associates and negotiated plea deals from two of them. Those charged include Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman; Rick Gates, an associate of Manafort’s who helped plan the presidential inauguration; George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser; and Michael Flynn, a campaign adviser who briefly became Trump’s national security adviser.
Papadopoulos and Flynn have both pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and are cooperating with Mueller’s team.
Congress has few tools to try to contain Mueller’s work or his budget and appears to have little appetite at this point to use them.